Artificial reefs make it all real.

The Artificial Reef Program's leader, Mr. J. Dale Shively, heads the team from the TPWD headquarters in Austin, Texas. This leaves the other two members of the team (Chris and Brooke) a little bit of freedom to operate. And when that happens, this happens:

Our chief scientist, Dr. Brooke Shipley-Lozano, demonstrates the full inflation of a dry suit.

Since scuba diving is one of many tools the reef program uses to monitor the results of artificial reefing, divers spend quite a bit of time in the water gathering samples, observing reefs and determining their effectiveness in creating new habitat for marine species.

When you think about diving, you probably picture a person in a wet suit. A wet suit protects divers from the environment and keeps them warm while under water.

In extreme cold water or weather, a diver can don a dry suit. This device is worn over varying layers of dry clothes, such as fleece or sweats, to maintain body warmth. The dry suit inflates off the divers' tanks, and the air inside the suit stays warm from heat generated by the body.

Chris and Brooke use dry suits when they are decompression diving. Both Chris and Brooke recently completed training that cleared them to dive to a depth of 180 feet. This depth requires them to stay submerged for longer periods of time in order to off-gas nitrogen from their blood streams. Divers in conventional wet suits can become chilled when submerged for long periods of time.

Graph of a typical decompression dive.

Instead of a standard 30-minute dive to 130 feet, when only a small portion of time is spent floating in the water column, the divers could be bouncing around with the plankton for roughly 15 minutes during their ascent.

Our job can have the potential for errors and mistakes that could cause bodily harm. We carry an enormous weight on our shoulders, literally, as we tend to dive carrying two cylinders of air and an additional small cylinder for our decompression dives. The extra cylinder is necessary when we stop along the ascent (up) line to 'off gas,' or let our bodies remove excess nitrogen from the blood stream. These bottles give a diver extra air without using all the available air in the tanks on the back. Otherwise, the diver could run out of air on the way back to the surface.

Our typical sampling season runs from March through October, and we spend our off-season training for our monitoring trips. Within the TPWD Artificial Reef Program, fun is all well and good. But as Robert F. Burgess once wrote, "Scuba diving is itself a hazardous sport. To do it without any training is tantamount to playing Russian roulette with a loaded revolver."

Periodic notes from the field will share more news from the Artificial Reefs staff.

1 Robert F Burgess. 1999. The Cave Divers. Aqua Quest Publications.

Biology News

In the fall of 2011, University of Texas - Brownsville Biological Sciences graduate students Andres Garcia and Jonathan Lê, undergraduate Rikki Hernandez, and faculty members Dr. Richard Kline and Dr. Carlos Cintra conducted research on the Texas Clipper, an artificial reef 17 miles off South Padre Island. As part of Lê's thesis work, he and Dr. Cintra scraped invertebrate marine life such as algae, barnacles and sponges from the hull of the Texas Clipper to determine whether specific disturbance rates promote re-colonization of various organisms on the reef. Meanwhile, Andres and Dr. Kline installed data-logging receivers at each end of the 473-foot reef to monitor the resident populations of red snapper and grouper. The researchers also implanted transmitter tags in four fish and met up with 60-pound amberjack and an 80-pound Warsaw grouper, which were curious about what these strange humans were doing in their habitat.

The Gulf accounts for 80% of all shrimp harvested,
62% of all oysters harvested and more than
1.4 billion pounds
of annual seafood production.

More than 140 petroleum platforms—with more on the way—have found new purpose as marine habitat in the Texas Artificial Reef Program.

Texas boasts 66 artificial reef sites ranging from 5 to 100 miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico—that’s 3,440 acres of prime fishing and diving adventure.

Seven reef sites within nine nautical miles of shore serve as accessible nearshore fishing and diving opportunities.

Red snapper, the most popular game fish in Texas Gulf waters, thrive around artificial reef sites. Scientific divers see red snapper at TPWD artificial reef sites during four of every ten visits to these locations.

With a few exceptions, the floor of the Gulf of Mexico is flat and bare except for artificial reef sites. Nearly 200 marine fish species have been seen on these complex, stable, and durable habitats among artificial reef structures.

Sixteen of 23 U.S. coastal states (or 70 percent) maintain artificial reef programs.

The Texas Clipper ship reef off South Padre Island generates more than $1 million for the local economy from anglers and $1.4–$2 million from divers. Anglers spend on average $460 per fishing trip, while divers spend upwards of $2,000 per dive.

Thirteen ships have been intentionally sunk as part of the Texas Artificial Reef Program, the largest being the USTS Texas Clipper. She’s 473 feet long—that’s 1.5 times the length of a football field.