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Getting to Know Artificial Reefs

History of Artificial Reefs and Materials

Since the first ships and sailors, we have known that objects placed in sea water are soon colonized with marine life. Beyond the initial nuisance of growing barnacles and infestations of aquatic wood boring worms on wooden ship hulls, mariners observed large fish populations inhabiting sunken vessels.

EPA Tire Reef Monitoring Picture

Tires were once disposed of at sea and utilized as reefs

From these early observations, the first artificial reefs were constructed from manmade materials purposefully put underwater to enrich marine life. New reefs were mainly constructed from deteriorating vessels or “materials of opportunity”. In the 1830s, artificial reef pioneers in South Carolina experimented with logs huts, which they discovered deteriorated too quickly. Locally, as early as the 1950s and 60s, fishermen used railroad cars, school buses, car bodies, white goods (stoves, refrigerator, washer, etc.), tires, and even porcelain toilets.

Modern use of Artificial Reefs and Materials

Today’s artificial reef materials have moved from underwater junk yards to marine resources that will last at least 20 years and not harm wildlife or the environment. Decommissioned steel hulled ships and durable “materials or opportunity” are still utilized. Nearshore Artificial Reef DeploymentAdditionally, new engineered concrete artificial reef modules that support specific species and various life stages of fish have been developed. Current fisheries research seeks to refine materials, design, and placement of artificial reefs to maximize conservation.

Within hours of sinking a vessel or artificial reef, baitfish move into their new home. This initiates a “parade” of marine life over several months. The hard structure of an artificial reef is slowly colonized by soft corals, plants, and barnacles.  Baitfish will soon have new neighbors, as snapper and grouper take residence. Nearby sand sediments come to life with sea stars, sand dollars, and other invertebrate species. In total, it takes about 3 – 5 years for reefs to reach a level of maximum production for both fish and invertebrate species.

Attraction vs. Production

Almost as old as the history of artificial reefs is the question of attraction vs. production. Do artificial reefs actually increase the fish population or merely increase the number of fish being caught? Researchers struggled with this question for decades producing seemingly conflicting results. Today’s consensus is that the answer to the question is both yes and no – it depends. When fishing pressure and mortality exceed the number of fish produced, artificial reefs can end up as expensive fishing equipment. It’s in everyone’s interest to avoid this situation create productive resources.

Fisheries Management Tools

Artificial reefs are best used as a fisheries conservation tool that disperses fishing pressure and promotes healthy fish stocks. The ultimate goal when using artificial reefs is for fish production to exceed any fishing or natural mortality. Artificial reef managers or charterfishing captains deploy variety of reef materials that support fish at varies sizes and ages. Reefs are deployed so that the exposure to fishing pressure is limited by time or by geographic location.

How to Permit an Artificial Reef for Deployment in Local Waters

Bay County has two Large Area Artificial Reef Sites or LAARS, open to public permit and deployment. Permits are only $30.00 details and instructions are available at

Economic Benefits of Artificial Reefs

Our artificial reefs support more than just fish they support people and jobs that earning a living from Bay County important artificial reefs and fishing are to Bay County. A more recent study estimates, for every $1 spent on artificial reefs in the Florida Panhandle, the economic benefit of artificial reef expenditures returns $138.

Artifical reef map

How to Access Our Artificial Reefs

Ready to go fishing? A list of reefs can be found on our artificial reef page. This page has an interactive map with weblinks to individual reef sites where we are collecting your submitted pictures and video. We are currently verifying and updating the coordinates to Digital GPS. Additional Reefs will be deployed in 2012 using construction grant funds from Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The County has also proposed new reef sites about two miles off the County Pier and Panama City Beach Pier (Pier Park). Bay County and other local governments have requested over 2 million dollars in funding as a part of early projects for National Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA).

How to Help with Reefing Efforts (Click Here)

The Extension Artificial Reef Advisory Committee and the Planning Department has great expectations for the Bay County artificial reef program in 2012. We have received local support with logistics, materials of opportunity, funding, education and promotion. We appreciate and welcome the contributions of charterfishing/diving industry, tourists, and residents. For more information about artificial reefs, contact Scott Jackson at the Bay County Extension Office at 850-784-6105.  All programs are open to all persons regardless of race, color, age, sex, handicap or national origin.

Other Information


Florida Sea Grant



FWC Artificial Reef Program

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Allowable Reef Materials for Deployment

Bay County shall only issue authorizations for the construction or nourishment of artificial reef sites using stable materials as authorized in the Permit, which are described below: Materials shall be free of pollutants and toxins and composed of Non-productive oil platforms thoroughly clean in accordance U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. …

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Bay County Artificial Reef Monitoring Plan

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), reef monitoring is now a required component of any Florida artificial reef program. Monitoring includes recording the presence or absence of plant, invertebrate and fish species at a given reef site; measuring physical attributes, such as water temperature or subsidence of reef materials; and surveying …

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Economic Impact

Quick Fact: For every $1 spent on artificial reefs in the Florida Panhandle, the conservative overall economic benefit of the artificial reef system over its average functioning life span is $138 (source: John Dodrill, Natural Sciences Manager, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Artificial Reef Program). That is a 13,800% return on investment. Still not …

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Site Selection for Bay County Artificial Reefs

Adapted from the Coastal Artificial Reef Planning Guide (49KB pdf)   Purpose, Habitat Enhancement and Creation, Recreational Fishing EnhancementSport  Diver Enhancement and Access, Other Uses, Social and Economic Considerations, Environmental Considerations, Bottom Geology, Hydrography, Water Quality, Biological Considerations   Site selection is …

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