Habitat Restoration

Artificial Reefs

Many of Florida’s coastal counties have artificial reef programs and they regularly deploy reefs for various purposes ranging from diving to fishing. Florida Sea Grant has been a driving force behind the statewide artificial reef program, providing recurring workshops for artificial reef professionals and guidelines for deploying and managing reefs. The GCMLC will work with its partners, including Florida Sea Grant, to provide guidance to counties in the panhandle region of Florida on where and when to deploy reefs in a manner that will support the survival and growth of fish released from the hatchery operation. In keeping with the goal of using science to direct effective restoration efforts, the GCMLC when called upon, also will be ready to provide finfish for stock enhancement to aid in the success of other artificial reef efforts throughout the State of Florida.

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One of the important factors affecting the survival of fish when released into the wild is availability of suitable habitat – a place to hide from predators and to support food resources that young fish need to grow. The deployment of artificial reefs through these programs, combined with a well-executed stock enhancement effort, will assure a significant positive impact on fish survival rates. Peer-reviewed research experiments conducted in the Gulf of Mexico indicate that hatchery-reared Red Snapper swiftly colonize newly constructed artificial reefs when these fish are released into the wild i.e., releasing the fish onto unoccupied artificial reefs is beneficial to their survival.

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As a testament to their relatively rapid enhancement of benthic substrates, artificial reefs attract baitfish within hours of deployment. Within a couple of months corals, plants, barnacles, invertebrates and fish higher in the food web, such as snapper and grouper, colonize artificial reefs. Research shows that a maximum level of capacity is reached within 3-5 years. Artificial reefs help to disperse fishing pressure by creating new habitats providing shelter and food, thereby stimulating healthy fish populations. Healthy local fish stocks in turn benefit people and the economy; artificial reefs support fishing charters, dive shops, and other forms of tourism in the area. A recent University of Florida/ Florida Sea Grant economic study in a six county area of SW Florida showed that the benefit of artificial reefs is $253 million per year, and that the reefs support over 2,600 jobs.