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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Artificial Reef Program

Marine Fisheries

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North Carolina has one of the most active artificial reef programs in the country, due, in part, to its continued association with active civilian participants (private fishing clubs and artificial reef associations) through material donations and logistical and practical support.

  1. What is an artificial reef?
  2. Where are North Carolina's artificial reefs?
  3. How are artificial reefs constructed?
  4. Artficial reef research
  5. Artificial reef documents

What is an artificial reef?

Artificial reefs are comprised of man-made structures such as decommissioned vessels, railroad cars, and concrete reef balls, pipe and large pieces of concrete rubble. All pollutants and contaminants are removed from materials before they are placed on reef sites. They are called artificial reefs because they provide the same benefits as naturally occurring reefs -- food and shelter for marine life. Once a structure is colonized by marine organisms, small baitfish move in, followed by larger fish prized by anglers. The same communities that attract anglers also make artificial reefs popular spots with SCUBA divers.
North Carolina also contains 12 oyster sanctuaries and CRFL fishing and oyster reefs, designed with a priority on sustainable oyster populations. These reefs attract native oyster larvae, other estuarine invertebrates and may be essential habitat to juvenile finfish. In turn, this productive habitat may attract larger transient finfish, enhancing coastal hook-and-line fishing opportunity.

Where are the reefs?

North Carolina's artificial reefs are marked by buoys and can be found using GPS coordinates.
 
As of December 2013, North Carolina had 49 permitted artificial reef sites. Forty-one of these are ocean sites, and 8 permitted sites are in North Carolina's estuaries.

 

Map of North Carolina's artificial reef sites. Click the icon for each reef to expand information about each site, including GPS coordinates.


view larger map

Artificial Reef Construction

Artificial reefs are developed through the use of prefabricated reef units designed specifically for artificial reef construction, or materials of opportunity, which originally had a purpose other than artificial reef construction. Prefabricated units were developed by industry to provide the characteristics of a reef habitat: food and shelter. This is accomplished through engineering a unit that maximizes complexity. Prefabricated units are usually made of concrete, which is strong, durable and is close in composition to natural limestone live bottom. Materials of opportunity are not intended for artificial reef construction, but are plentiful, inexpensive, and satisfy the characteristics of a reef habitat as well. Common materials of opportunity include: concrete pipe, manhole sections and vessels. Materials of opportunity also alleviate the need to dispose of unwanted materials in landfills, making these materials very attractive. All materials used must undergo extensive inspection to insure that no hazardous materials such as, petroleum products, lead, PCB, etc. are present. These soon to be artificial reefs are deployed by the NC Division of Marine Fisheries or independent contractors. Much of the materials used in artificial reef construction are donated through local fishing clubs, artificial reef associations and dive clubs. Without these partnerships, the NC Artificial Reef Program would not be what it is today!

Past Research

Instant habitat

Artificial Reef Program staff report that within hours after placement of an artificial reef organisms will begin to colonize the structure. The first to arrive are the finfish, looking for food or structure to hide from predators. Once the benthic (bottom) community (barnacles, algae, oysters, etc.) is established, the reef becomes a home to a myriad of fish and invertebrates that can be enjoyed by all!

Nursery Area

Important commercial and recreational fish such as gag grouper and black sea bass have been noted utilizing artificial reefs as nursery habitat. These juvenile fish prefer habitat with ledges and overhangs that allow them to ambush their prey.

Documents

Artificial Reef Master Plan

Reef Guide

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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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