Please welcome back Eileen with some insight into artificial reefs.
When most people think of coral reefs, they picture crystal clear water, colorful corals and active schools of fish like those in places like Hawaii and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. As pristine environments like these are becoming more and more threatened however, the face of the traditional “coral reef” is changing. Artificial reefs are becoming more popular as methods of saving the reefs, protecting the beaches they neighbor, increasing recreation and tourism and even creating more “farming areas” for those fish popular in the aquarium trade.
Although artificial reefs are becoming more and more advanced as we learn more about what the marine life needs to thrive, the creation of reefs is nothing new. Ancient civilizations like the Persians and the Roman Empire created their own underwater barriers to help defend their harbors. Ancient fishermen were attracted to shipwrecks for the fish that would live in and around the wrecks. Japanese farmers created their own underwater farms to grow kelp in the the 1500’s and fishermen in South Carolina sunk unused timber to attract more fish to the coasts before the Civil War.
The “Osborne Reef” was one of the first efforts in the United States to create an artificial reef for recreational uses and to preserve and expand the existing coral reefs. This reef was used as the final resting ground for well over a million tires off of the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and was considered one of the most ambitious and environmentally-friendly projects. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Marine life couldn’t grow in the tires and the tires themselves weren’t firmly anchored enough to save nearby natural reefs from damage during Florida’s active hurricane and tropical storm seasons. Though the original project had good intentions and the right idea – using items that would normally fill a landfill or have no other purpose – a multi-million dollar project is now underway to remove the tires from Osborne Reef.
Other projects have learned from the mistakes made with Osborne Reef and are now working to bolster the struggling coral reefs worldwide. The Rigs-to-Reefs program uses obsolete, unused or retired oil rigs to create new underwater reefs. The old rigs – most of which already have healthy reef populations around their bases from years of use – are either tipped onto their sides on the ocean floor or are cut in half, leaving the base intact and moving the top of the rig to a nearby location. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is also doing their part to save the reefs by sinking decommissioned, outdated subway cars. The stainless steel cars are cleaned, decontaminated, stripped of anything unsafe for the marine life, and then sunk to a new home in the Atlantic Ocean. Numerous decommissioned boats and ships of all sizes have also been scuttled and sunk to create new reefs, some of the most notable being the USS Oriskany and the USS Spiegel Grove, two naval vessels.
While projects like these are recycling structures that may have never normally seen the bottom of the ocean, other organizations are creating new structures designed specifically with marine life in mind. Reef Balls is an organization that creates structures for artificial reef use. They have over 20 styles and 10 sizes for various uses like coral reef and mangrove rehabilitation, oyster reefs, aquaculture farming, recreational purposes like fishing and snorkeling, erosion prevention, and scientific research. Companies can sponsor and build their own reef balls and government and private grants are also available. So far, over 59 countries have reef balls sunken off of their coasts. Companies like the Neptune Memorial Reef in Florida and Eternal Reefs, a Reef Balls’ sister company, are even creating artificial reefs using cremated remains to create underwater cemeteries.
Artificial reefs are becoming more and more common. They give new life to structures that would have been scrapped in the past and are helping to revitalize struggling reef communities worldwide. SCUBA divers, fishermen, surfers, and marine scientists are all already making use of these new reefs and as the aquarium hobby grows and expands, artificial reefs will become more important in sustaining populations for our own hobby. With the support of aquarium community and marine-loving citizens worldwide, we can turn terrestrial trash into new homes to brink some of the animals we love back from the brink.
Thanks, Eileen. This is a really interesting topic. Looking forward to your next article.
Image 2 attributed to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Artificialreef.JPG