Alabama’s artificial reef program

Alabama’s artificial reef program is nation’s largest

It all started with O.B. Charter Boat Assn. sinking 250 car bodies in 1953
Good for the environment and the economy, Alabama’s artificial reef program is currently the largest reef program in the United States. It’s the reason both fish and anglers are drawn to the Alabama waterfront.
Alabama’s artificial reef program began in 1953 when the Orange Beach Charter Boat Association asked for the authority to place 250 car bodies off Baldwin County beaches. The success of this program led to other materials being placed as reefs, including culverts, bridge rubble, barges, boats and planes.
Today, however, the state is much more particular about what goes beneath the Gulf of Mexico, remarked Chris Blankenship, director of the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“We have a very strict protocol for the materials we use for reefs,” Blankenship said. “For instance, we have not used car bodies in decades. The materials we use for artificial reefs must be stable items that will not disassociate, they must be free of oil, grease and other hazardous materials, and they must meet other stringent guidelines. Most of our reefs are now built using pyramids or structures built with concrete. It is very important to the Marine Resources Division that we enhance the environment, not harm it.”
Reefs bring diversity to the environment. The bottom of the Gulf of Mexico off of the coast of Alabama was historically flat and sandy, with little diversity.
“Creating thousands of artificial reefs has turned our ecosystem into a vibrant and productive area with millions of fish, corals and other creatures that were not present before the reef-building activity,” Blankenship said.
Reefs create a habitat on the ocean floor that allow encrusting organisms such as corals and sponges to cover the artificial reef material. Small fish and crustaceans then take up residence and they are followed by larger fish and sharks, creating a reef food web.
“If you put thousands of these little ecosystems out there on the bottom, it creates a big change in diversity and marine creatures,” Blankenship explained. “Artificial reefs are very important for the overall improvement of the marine resources off the coast of Alabama, and I am very proud of the Alabama Artificial Reef Program.”
An inshore reef program began in Alabama in 1996 and continues to expand through the addition of concrete culvert material. The inshore reefs, like the offshore reefs, provide fishing opportunities for anglers who prefer to fish these areas.
Certified scuba divers are invited to participate in the Adopt-A-Reef program that asks participants to make observations on their dives regarding the structural integrity of the reefs, the degree of fouling, and the number of lionfish observed and harvested.
“Building artificial reefs is very valuable to the coastal Alabama economy,” Blankenship said. “The reefs produce a lot of fish and provide excellent opportunities for fishing and diving. It has turned Orange Beach, Alabama into the ‘Red Snapper Capital of the World.’ Our great fishing is one of the draws to the coast, and the artificial reefs are one of the primary drivers for the great fishing we have off our coast.”
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