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Texas Artificial Reefs

TXreefscuba Texas Artificial Reefs

Divers at reef MIA7 hover above a decommissioned platform in 150 feet of water 50 miles offshore Matagorda Island.

New life for old structures: Scientists are finding a surprising diversity of life on Texas artificial reefs

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

If there’s one uptick to the oil business, it’s that an old rig can bring new life.  Off the coast of Texas, some 195 structures, many of them decommissioned oil and gas platforms, are forming artificial reefs that provide intense colonies of marine life.  For sports fishermen, these are the go-to fishing spots.  For divers, these are dazzling underworlds of color and diversity.  For scientists, these are proof that the complex web of marine life can take place if provided space and structure.

Artificial reefs provide a solution to the barren bottom often found in northwestern Gulf of Mexico.  With the exception of a few natural banks, much of the ocean floor offshore Texas has no form for marine life to cling to, the kind of base that allows reef colonies to form. “Muddy and silty,” is how Jennifer Wetz describes the underwater terrain.  As Fisheries Project Manager for Harte Research Institute (HRI), Wetz has been diving and using Remote Operating Vehicles to study fish life among artificial reefs.  What she and her colleagues are finding among Texas’ artificial reefs is surprising.

“We didn’t expect to see how quickly these artificial reefs attract marine life,” says HRI Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney.  Not only do submerged platforms become quickly colonized, they populate with an impressive diversity of fish.  In their study completed last year, HRI found 52 fish species from all observed sites, Snapper being the most common. “We also found the marine life habitat to be more complex than expected,” says McKinney.

That’s encouraging news to Chris Ledford, Artificial Reef Specialist at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, who has a queue of 25 structures in the process of being converted and permanently reefed.  With 81 reef sites in Texas – an increase from 64 in 2014 – those structures will eventually add to 7 more reef sites being planned.

McKinney sees the artificial reefs as taking the pressure off the region’s few natural reefs.  “The number of fishermen with fast, long-range boats are increasing, as are good, relatively inexpensive electronics, making it easier to find these natural reefs.  So what these artificial reefs do is make more opportunities available to the recreational fisherman, and it spreads the pressure away from the natural systems.”

texas reef map Texas Artificial Reefs

Click the image above to view TPWD’s artificial reef map.

An estimated 3,000 non-producing platforms remain in the Gulf, under terms to be permanently removed.  If a company is thinking of decommissioning an old platform, converting it to a reef makes sense for the environment, and it could save them money.  By converting a 4-pile structure to an artificial reef, a company could realize a savings of up to half a million dollars.  To find out more, visit: http://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/water/habitats/artificial_reef/index.phtml

texas-reef-fishREEF SPECIES

Hart Research Institute’s ROV (remote operating vessel) documented these species on their study sites, listed here in order of most common to least common. (Data courtesy of Jennifer Wetz, M.S., Harte Research Institute.)

Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus

Spanish Hogfish Bodianus rufus

Mangrove Snapper Lutjanus griseus

Blue Angelfish Holacanthus bermudensis

Rock Hind Epinephelus adscensionis

Horse-eye Jack Caranx latus

Yellow Jack Caranx bartholomaei

Spotfin Hogfish Bodianus pulchellus

Great Barracuda Sphyraena barracuda

Blue Runner Caranx crysos

Lookdown Selene vomer

Atlantic Spadefish Chaetodipterus faber

Vermillion Snapper Rhomboplites aurorubens

Damselfish sp. Stegastes sp.

Creole Fish Paranthias furcifer

Gray Triggerfish Balistes capriscus

Almaco Jack Seriola rivoliana

Greater Amberjack Seriola dumerili

Crevalle Jack Caranx hippos

Rainbow Runner Elagatis bipinnulata

Spotfin Butterflyfish Chaetodon ocellatus

Sheepshead Archosargus probatocephalus

Reef Butterflyfish Chaetodon sedentarius

Tomtate Haemulon aurolineatum

Bermuda Chub Kyphosus sectatrix

Bluehead wrasse Thalassoma bifasciatum

Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris

Cobia Rachycentron canadum

Blue Tang Acanthurus coeruleus

African Pompano Alectis ciliaris

Bar Jack Caranx ruber

Black Jack Caranx lugubris

Sandbar Shark Carcharhinus plumbeus

French Angelfish Pomacanthus paru

Lionfish Pterois volitans

Black Margate Anisotremus surinamensis

Squirrelfish Holocentrus adscensionis

Townsend Angelfish Holacanthus sp.

Sergeant Major Abudefduf saxatilis

Porkfish Anisotremus virginicus

Creole wrasse Clepticus parrae

Scamp Grouper Mycteroperca phenax

Sharpnose Puffer Canthigaster rostrata

Doctorfish Acanthurus chirurgus

Palometa Trachinotus goodei

Permit Trachinotus falcatus

Silky Shark Carcharhinus falciformus

Pigfish Orthopristis chrysoptera

Lane Snapper Lutjanus synagris

Yellowtail Snapper Ochyurus chrysurus

Cubera Snapper Lutjanus cyanopterus

Rock Beauty Holacanthus tricolor

Brown Chromis Chromis multilineata

Bicolor Damselfish Stegastes partitus

Parrotfish sp. Scaridae

Yellowmouth Grouper Mycteroperca interstitialis

Goliath Grouper Epinephelus itajara

Warsaw Grouper Epinephelus nigritus

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