There’s no denying the fish attraction of artificial reefs.
More than 180 scientists, county reef coordinators, state and federal officials, fishermen and shareholders came together at the January Artificial Reef Summit in Cocoa Beach to discuss the latest in Florida artificial reef development and deployment. University researchers and federal officials were on hand to explain the impacts of manmade wrecks on bottom-fish species—not all of them rosy—while county coordinators divulged their latest developments in reef material and placement.
One hot-button topic that continues to linger—the idea of fish attraction versus fish production—was magnified at the conference. Deploying more wrecks along Florida’s coastline seems like a clear no-brainer for anglers, but from a fishery-production standpoint the waters blur.
“Artificial reefs play almost no formal role in the management of Gulf fisheries,” said Dr. Stephen Bortone, Gulf Council Executive Director. “Most national governments don’t even support federal artificial reef programs. It’s an assumption to believe that restrictions on a fishery’s fitness (ability to survive and transmit genes to the next generation) can be relieved by adding artificial reefs. There are potential pluses, but also many problems.”
Doctor Bill Lindberg, fisheries professor at the University of Florida, extrapolated on some of the problems that arise from artificial reef deployments in a recent interview with Sea Grant Florida:
“When we build a reef, we’re altering the availability of the structure fish need in proximity to their foraging grounds,” said Lindberg. “So yes, they’re drawn to it. And there are studies to suggest that artificial reefs initially hold higher densities of fish than natural reefs.”
“One argument is that adding more habitat really isn’t doing anything but changing the spatial dynamics of fish distribution—and where people fish,” he said. “In the absence of fishing, we might expect fish to spread their numbers out among available habitat. But it’s not necessarily true for heavily fished reef fish; fishermen can move around in response to catch rates faster than fish naturally redistribute themselves.”
“The more mobile a fish is, the more it depends on a broader ‘footprint’ than just the reef for its prey and various life stages. For economically viable fish like grouper, it’s much less likely that an individual reef is going to contribute production sufficient to offset harvest.”
No matter if manmade structures are attractors or producers, artificial reef programs continue to stay active around the state—even if it’s on a shoestring budget. Jessica McCawley, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Biological Administrator, says that the state does take into account artificial reefs as part of their fishery management plan, and they provide money (1.5 million dollars plus in 2009) to county reef deployments in the form of grants or matching funds.
————————(Highlighting artificial reef activity around the state)———————————-
Researchers will start dropping hundreds of “patch” reefs 100 miles offshore the Steinhatchee River this summer to help boost gag grouper populations for the long term. Headed up by UF professor Bill Lindberg, the conservation reef sites located in about 30 to 50 feet of water are expected to lessen the “bottleneck effect” on immature gag grouper.
Bottleneck Effect background: Each fall, 2- to 4-year-old female gag grouper migrate from seagrass beds to offshore waters when the temperatures cool. Along the way is the most volatile part of their life cycle, says Lindberg. Gags leave habitat- and prey-friendly nurseries to navigate bare bottom of the Gulf to reach deepwater spawning sites.
To provide structure and support for these subadult female grouper (most fish are less than 36 inches), researchers will deploy up to 500 conservation reefs at the Steinhatchee Fisheries Management Area (SFMA). Reefs are comprised of 3 to 4 concrete blocks. Increased habitat for the immature females will boost growth rates and therefore fecundity for future spawns, says Lindberg.
All deployments in the SFMA are expected to be complete in about four years. GPS numbers of these patch reefs will not be released to the public, though the area will be open to fishing. (Taylor County has an established set of artificial reefs in the northern tip of the SFMA that are published.) A similar patch-reef zone to the south called the Suwannee Regional Reef System has had positive effects on gag grouper.
Any Gulf Coast bottom-bouncer can tell you that reds and gags don’t always hang in the same locales. Gags tend to congregate in greater concentrations near high-relief structure associated with artificial reef material, while reds prefer low-relief limestone pockmarks, mixed with a bit of coral and sand.
Lee County’s artificial reef program wanted to capitalize on the reds’ temperance for minimalist structure, and in 2003, dropped 35 2- to 10-ton experimental concrete slabs and limestone rubble at the Charlotte North Reef site. Their intentions were to attract red grouper, one of the most prevalent species off Lee County.
After years of studying the experimental reefs, their outcomes were mixed. Results found an increase in recruitment of red grouper over time, but not initially. An unexpected outcome was the number gag grouper observed at the low-relief sites. A mix of improper placement of underwater structure and an overall increase of grouper throughout the region may have contributed to their findings, said Justin McBride, an environmental specialist with Lee County.
The low-relief artificial constructs tended to bury in the sand bottom over time, says McBride, though that led to a unique red grouper behavioral discovery. Underwater video shows that reds are excavators, and they will vigorously move sand away from their hiding-hole entrances to create open space.
The biggest nearshore grouper of them all is on the rebound, and in a big way. Since 1990, goliath grouper have been in recovery mode, and in 2007, a research study began to observe and tag goliath grouper along the central west coast.
Collecting harvest statistics is not a practical option for this protected species. Instead, FWC biologist Angela Collins has made over 350 dives at 78 survey sites to observe goliaths with help from a custom, remotely-operated vehicle (ROV). Using laser lights from the ROV, Collins can get accurate measurements of every fish her team comes across. Divers also dart-tag some of the fish they monitor using a modified spear gun. From this, researchers expect to better understand the goliath’s life history, behavior and habitat preferences.
Preliminary findings show that goliaths are more likely to hang around artificial structure such as shipwrecks, versus natural habitat like limestone ledges. “We’ve recorded goliath grouper on 90 percent of the artificial reefs we monitor,” says Collins “but only 35 percent of the natural bottom.” In addition, tagging data indicate that individual goliaths may have substantial movement patterns, depending on the individual fish. One fish tagged off Lee County was caught near Jupiter on the east coast.
Goliath grouper numbers increased in conjunction with site depth and depth relief, found the observation team, and so far, more than 165 goliath grouper have been tagged. Collins sees about a 13 to 16 percent re-sight rate, with the majority of these fish spotted at their initial tagging site.
Not all artificial reef programs are equal, and the culprit’s often a lack of funds. Some counties don’t have active programs; others are re-tooling their efforts. Jacksonville re-established its program in 2009 (after a 5-year hiatus) to sink the Coast Guard cutter Spike. At the far end of the spectrum, counties like Escambia, Sarasota, Collier, Bay and Martin feature dynamic programs that are in continual planning mode for their next drop.
How do they do it? Reef deployments involve extensive pre-planning and costs, so it’s pertinent to highlight when one region of the state is exceling at reef-building, even with obvious monetary hurdles. The Martin County Artificial Reef Fund (MCAC) was established in 2002 as a private corporation to enhance the county’s artificial reef program. Started by local fishermen, divers and business owners, the private group (affably self-described as “Reeftirees” or “Reefers”) raises money for deployments through fishing tournaments, fundraising events, and even naming rights to perspective reefs.
The efforts are paying off. A series of linear north-to-south manmade reef tracts supplement the once “desert” areas off Martin County. To the south, divers report late- summer aggregations of goliath grouper on artificial reef sites off Jupiter. In February 2010, the 69-foot tugboat Big Al was deployed in 187 feet of water. Businessman Ted Glasrud purchased the naming rights, which covered much of the project’s costs, and now the Glasrud Reef rests nine miles northeast of the St. Lucie Inlet.
Ninety percent of Oculina coral banks (Oculina varicose) off the east coast of Florida have been scraped from the seafloor in the last three decades, says FSU marine biologist Chris Koenig. Destroyed by commercial dredges and nets historically, the area known as the Oculina Bank is still molested by illegal trawlers.
This area spans from Daytona Beach to Fort Pierce (starting in 160 feet of water) and is a historical spawning site for deepwater groupers, black seabass, speckled hind and red snapper.
Researchers are probing out new means of recruiting this slow-growing, deep-water coral. The coral larvae’s tendency not to settle and re-grow on top of dead corals has led to experimental deployments of reef balls and concrete discs, and now even dilapidated steel ships.
Micheal Barnette, a marine biologist with NOAA, is one of those brainstorming the ship deployment idea. Offshore, the increased surface area of vessels [compared to reef balls or discs] would provide corals space to settle and grow, he said. Further more, the wrecks would be easier to re-locate in depths surpassing 200 feet for further study, and would serve as a deterrent to illegal trawling.
The following coordinates are public numbers provided by the FWC. Latitude and longitude are printed in degrees, minutes and decimal minutes. Charts were downloaded from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and, in the form here, are not intended for navigational use. The sites were plotted using Fugawi Marine ENC navigation software.
A sampling of new deployment as of 2010
|BAY||RED SEA TUGBOAT||MIDWAY II||SHIP STEEL 125′ TUGBOAT||3000.958||8542.003||74||36|
|BAY||2009-8||SOUTH SITE||MODULES CONCRETE WALTERS LIMESTONE (4)||2943.496||8540.487||93||12|
|BAY||2009-7||BRIDGE SPAN SITE11||MODULES CONCRETE WALTERS LIMESTONE (2)||2944.032||8542.689||102||12|
|BAY||2009-6||BRIDGE SPAN SITE11||MODULES CONCRETE WALTERS LIMESTONE (2)||2944.515||8542.705||102||12|
|BAY||2009-5||NORTH SITE||MODULES CONCRETE WALTERS LIMESTONE (3)||2946.740||8541.608||82||12|
|BAY||2009-4||NORTH SITE||MODULES CONCRETE WALTERS LIMESTONE (3)||2946.270||8542.154||95||12|
|BAY||2009-3||BRIDGE RUBBLE SITE||MODULES CONCRETE WALTERS LIMESTONE (5)||2946.563||8535.867||85||12|
|BAY||2009-2||TOWER SITE||MODULES CONCRETE WALTERS LIMESTONE (5)||2943.695||8528.275||60||12|
|BAY||2009-1||TOWER SITE||MODULES CONCRETE WALTERS LIMESTONE (5)||2944.184||8528.309||60||12|
|BAY||DUPONT BRIDGE RUBBLE #1||COUNTY LAARS SITE A||CONCRETE SLABS AND RUBBLE||2958.719||8550.713||95||10|
|BROWARD||NOVA REEF ROC ARTIFICIAL REEF||FORT LAUDERDALE REEF SITE “C”||MODULES CONCRETE REEF-ROC UNITS (201)||2609.100||8005.195||43||1|
|CHARLOTTE||CAPTAIN JEFF STEELE REEF-#09-1||CAPTAIN JEFF STEELE REEF||CONCRETE CULVERTS||2655.674||8235.832||60||8|
|COLLIER||DR PASS 4.5 MILE SITE-#09-4||DOCTORS PASS 5.0 MILE||CONCRETE PILINGS (200)||2610.241||8154.043||30||10|
|COLLIER||DR PASS 4.5 MILE SITE-#09-3||DOCTORS PASS 5.0 MILE||CONCRETE RUBBLE (200)||2610.254||8154.049||30||10|
|COLLIER||DR PASS 4.5 MILE SITE-#09-2||DOCTORS PASS 5.0 MILE||CONCRETE PILINGS (150)||2610.269||8154.035||30||10|
|COLLIER||DR PASS 4.5 MILE SITE-#09-1||DOCTORS PASS 5.0 MILE||CONCRETE RUBBLE (150)||2610.278||8154.043||30||10|
|DADE||OPHELIA BRIAN REEF||KEY BISCAYNE SMZ||SHIP STEEL 205′||2542.346||8005.148||110||40|
|DADE||GOLDEN BEACH ETERNAL REEFBALLS SITE #9||GOLDEN BEACH||MODULES CONCRETE REEFBALLS (9)||2557.779||8005.877||43||4|
|DADE||GOLDEN BEACH ETERNAL REEFBALLS SITE #8||GOLDEN BEACH||MODULES CONCRETE REEFBALLS (6)||2557.757||8005.871||43||3|
|DUVAL||FLOYDS FOLLY||FLOYDS FOLLY (FF)||CONCRETE CULVERTS||3010.034||8109.322||75||15|
|DUVAL||SPIKE REEF||HARMS LEDGE||SHIP STEEL TUGBOAT 76′||3022.535||8053.690||110||35|
|ESCAMBIA||JEFF’S REEF||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE GROUPER MODULE (3)||3017.833||8714.113||40||2|
|ESCAMBIA||DAVID’S REEF||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE WALTER FLORIDA LIMESTONE (4)||3017.833||8713.869||43||8|
|ESCAMBIA||ANDI COYLE REEF||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE WALTER FLORIDA LIMESTONE (1)||3017.898||8713.863||40||8|
|ESCAMBIA||GB SERTOMA.COM REEF 2||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE WALTER FLORIDA LIMESTONE (2)||3017.878||8713.969||45||8|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #14||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.873||8714.066||41||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #13||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.294||8714.072||55||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #12||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.339||8714.089||53||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #11||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.372||8714.085||49||3|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #10||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.439||8714.093||48||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #9||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.474||8714.099||47||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #8||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.534||8714.112||48||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #7||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.588||8714.112||48||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #6||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.632||8714.116||47||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #5||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.686||8714.116||46||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #4||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.739||8714.131||43||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #3||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.778||8714.133||43||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #2||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.863||8714.146||39||6|
|ESCAMBIA||RFRA REEF #1||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.276||8714.152||52||6|
|ESCAMBIA||PARADISE B & G REEF||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.328||8714.138||54||6|
|ESCAMBIA||OUTCAST FISHING AND HUNTING||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.378||8714.158||52||6|
|ESCAMBIA||TOM WHITE PRINTER REEF||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.426||8714.146||49||6|
|ESCAMBIA||HELEN MAE TORRES REEF||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.466||8714.162||48||6|
|ESCAMBIA||WAYNE FRIER||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.518||8714.158||53||6|
|ESCAMBIA||DAVID LEE SELLERS||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.576||8714.149||53||6|
|ESCAMBIA||FREEDOM BOAT CLUB||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.616||8714.150||52||6|
|ESCAMBIA||ROY JONES JR 2||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.669||8714.169||51||6|
|ESCAMBIA||ROY JONES JR 1||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.715||8714.168||49||6|
|ESCAMBIA||ACADEMY 2||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.760||8714.184||47||6|
|ESCAMBIA||ACADEMY 1||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.808||8714.176||44||6|
|ESCAMBIA||FREDRICK H CLEVELAND||ESCAMBIA NEARSHORE EAST||MODULES CONCRETE FISH HAVENS (3)||3017.866||8714.194||43||6|
|HILLSBOROUGH||EGMONT KEY REEF (BAY),#25||EGMONT KEY REEF (BAY)||MODULES CONCRETE REEFBALLS (19)||2734.970||8244.680||18||3|
|MANATEE||7 MILE NORTH REEF, SITE “09-01-07”||7 MILE NORTH REEF||ROCK LIMESTONE BOULDERS (300)||2732.340||8252.673||40||18|
|MARTIN||SIROTKIN CHARLIE||SIROTKIN SITE||CONCRETE ,CULVERTS, BOXES AND PILINGS (200)||2712.814||8000.289||187||13|
|MARTIN||SIROTKIN BRAVO||SIROTKIN SITE||CONCRETE ,CULVERTS, BOXES AND PILINGS (300)||2712.936||8000.280||187||7|
|MARTIN||SIROTKIN ALPHA||SIROTKIN SITE||CONCRETE ,CULVERTS, BOXES AND PILINGS (250)||2713.040||8000.306||185||10|
|MONROE||HOYT VANDENBERG||VANDENBERG SITE||SHIP STEEL 522′||2427.597||8144.188||145||100|
|PALM BEACH||BOYNTON #3 REEF||BOYNTON SITE #3||ROCK LIMESTONE (300)||2631.870||8001.950||69||13|
|PALM BEACH||MV MISS LOURDIES||BOCA DEEP SITE||SHIP STEEL 165′ WORK BOAT||2619.188||8003.200||140||41|
|PINELLAS||WJ SHRIMPBOAT||TREASURE ISLAND II||VESSEL STEEL SHRIMP BOAT 45′||2741.686||8317.547||100||25|
|SARASOTA||I-1, LYNN SILVERTOOTH, #34||I-1||CONCRETE ANCHORS (12)||2717.115||8235.870||30||4|
|SARASOTA||I-1, LYNN SILVERTOOTH, #25-4||I-1||MODULES CONCRETE REEFBALLS (8)||2717.072||8235.864||30||5|
|SARASOTA||I-1, LYNN SILVERTOOTH, #25-3||I-1||MODULES CONCRETE REEFBALLS (11)||2717.163||8235.944||30||4|
|SARASOTA||I-1, LYNN SILVERTOOTH, #25-2||I-1||MODULES CONCRETE REEFBALLS (11)||2717.156||8235.966||30||4|
|ST. LUCIE||FISH AMERICA FOUNDATION #4||NORTH HUTCHINSON ISLAND NEARSHORE||CONCRETE CULVERTS AND LIGHTPOLES||2731.173||8011.110||55||27|
|ST. LUCIE||FISH AMERICA FOUNDATION #3||NORTH HUTCHINSON ISLAND NEARSHORE||CONCRETE CULVERTS AND LIGHTPOLES||2731.227||8011.156||55||27|
|ST. LUCIE||FISH AMERICA FOUNDATION #2||NORTH HUTCHINSON ISLAND NEARSHORE||CONCRETE CULVERTS AND MANHOLES||2731.214||8011.158||55||18|
|ST. LUCIE||FISH AMERICA FOUNDATION #1||NORTH HUTCHINSON ISLAND NEARSHORE||BARGE STEEL (65′)||2731.213||8011.169||55||10|