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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - About Our Reefs

Marine Fisheries

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About Our Reefs

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Why Build Artificial Reefs in North Carolina?

Simply said, reefs create habitat for fish; fish habitats contribute to healthy fish populations; and healthy reef populations provide great fishing sites.

Although naturally productive reefs occur along the coast and estuarine waters, the vast majority of the coastal and estuarine sea floor is flat, featureless sand or mud. When materials are placed on the sea floor to provide structure where there was previously none, they soon become encrusted and colonized by marine organisms, such as barnacles, flexible corals, sponges, shellfish, and various plants or seaweeds. This attracts small bait fishes that provide food for larger predatory fish. The three dimensional structures replicate the ecological functions of food and refuge provided by natural hard bottom habitat.

Artificial reefs are considered crucial spawning and foraging habitat for many commercially and recreationally important fish species — so much so that the N.C. Coastal Habitat Protection Plan recommends expanding reef construction to offset past habitat degradation, habitat loss, and water quality degradation that can negatively impact coastal ecosystems.

In North Carolina, there are two types of manmade reefs that contribute to habitat restoration efforts: oyster sanctuaries and artificial reefs. The primary function of an oyster sanctuary is to create oyster habitat that will provide brood stock, while supporting diverse and abundant finfish populations. North Carolina builds oyster sanctuaries in areas where oysters will thrive. Artificial reefs are built with finfish production in mind, using a variety of materials and supporting scientific research to maximize their success. These reefs are located all along North Carolina’s coast in nearshore and offshore ocean waters, as well as in the sounds.

The North Carolina Artificial Reef Program

Artificial reefs and oyster sanctuaries are supported by dedicated N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries staff who develop, maintain, evaluate and administer the reef system. Biologists monitor North Carolina’s artificial reefs for material stability, material durability, material performance, essential fish habitat and more. Information from these studies helps guide future enhancements.

Support for the North Carolina Reef Programs

North Carolina has one of the most active reef enhancement programs in the country, due in part to wide public support and dedicated Division of Marine Fisheries staff, who develop, maintain, evaluate, and administer the reef systems. The division’s reef programs receive funding from the North Carolina General Assembly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration Program, the North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License Grant Program, as well as from private donations for the enhancement and biological sampling of reef sites. Private reef associations, fishing clubs, and other active civilian participants also offer logistical and practical support by generating funds, donating materials and submitting enhancement project proposals.

Reef Documents

Download the Reef Guide here. Download the Artificial Reef Master Plan here.
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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