How Do Artificial Reefs Work in the Texas Gulf?

The Texas Wildlife Department was officially created in 1963 when the Game Department was merged with the Fish & Oyster Commission. This newly merged division was then integrated within the State Parks Boards to form the Coastal Fisheries Division. In 1990 a program called The Artificial Reef Program was created to promote, develop, monitor and maintain the potential for artificial reefs along the Texas offshore waterways.

How does the Texas Gulf benefit from Artificial Reefs? Natural tropical coral reefs are generally found in warm-water that is shallow with high sunlight. The Texas Gulf has murky water that is typically cooler in temperature. In fact temperatures may drop to 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months. Strong currents and inflows carry sediment. The combination of strong currents along with the cooler temperature create an environment which makes it very difficult for natural tropical coral reefs to survive. The Gulf of Mexico is a diverse environment that is full of species of plants and animals that require hard surfaces to adhere to in order to survive and complete their life cycles. The Gulf of Mexico has few natural reefs systems but man-made structures that are monitored and maintained by the Texas Artificial Reef Program give invertebrates including coral, clams, and barnacles the hard surfaces they need to survive.

Texas has been involved in artificial reef development for almost 50 years. In the mid-1970’s, 12 obsolete World War II ships were sunk at five different sites along the Gulf. These five sites are still productive to this day and have been enhanced with other forms of durable materials to ensure there longevity. In Texas, the Artificial Reef Act of 1989 directed the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission to create the Texas Artificial Reef Plan which was officially adopted in 1990.

The Texas Artificial Reef Program has many benefits including biological growth which creates ideal habitats within the food chain to provide food for fish species such as grouper, mackerel and snapper. Saltwater anglers have found that oil platforms and other forms of unintentional artificial reefs along the continental shelf have created literally thousands of miles of marine habitats that help marine life to survive. The Texas Artificial Reef Program is partnering with corporations, conservationists and communities to create and maintain over 4,000 acres of artificial reefs within Texas Gulf Waters. The Artificial Reef Program partners with other programs to ensure the survival of marine life including:
• The Rigs-to-Reef Program using decommissioned drilling platforms
• Ships-to-Reefs Program which uses large marine vessels
• Highway bridge materials along with other heavy-gauge steel and sources of concrete

All materials used to create artificial reefs must meet both state and federal guidelines for environmental safety as well as be completely free of contaminants which could damage the balance of a sensitive eco-system. The Rigs-to-Reefs Program has numerous corporate petroleum partners who donate rigs to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department which mutually benefit not only the eco-system but the company themselves who save on the costs of dismantling and moving post-production rig systems. Many of the participating companies also invest by contributing to the Artificial Reef Program who in turn use this funding to construct underwater habitats that not only support the fishing industry but also enhance and preserve the overall health of the Gulf. Join Texas Heritage Protection in caring for our great State!