The Beginning of the Program
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was created in 1963 when the Fish and Oyster Commission (formed in 1895) was merged with the Game Department (formed in 1907). When this new entity was merged with the State Parks Board in 1963, the Coastal Fisheries Division was created in the new agency. The Artificial Reef Program, created in 1990 as a program within the Coastal Fisheries Division, promotes, develops, maintains, monitors and enhances the artificial reef potential of Texas offshore waters.
The Gulf Benefits from Artificial Reefs
Natural tropical coral reef systems are typically found in shallow, warm-water environments where sunlight penetration is high. The Texas Gulf has cooler (temperatures may drop to 60°F during the winter months) and murky waters created by strong currents and inflows carrying sediment. The combination of colder temperatures, freshwater inflows and barren substrate creates a situation in which natural tropical coral reefs typically do not survive, except in few cases..
The Gulf of Mexico is teeming with thousands of species of plants and animals that need hard surfaces to cling to in order to complete their life cycles. Since the Gulf of Mexico has relatively few naturally occurring reefs, man-made structures like those maintained by the Texas Artificial Reef Program give invertebrates such as barnacles, corals, sponges, clams, bryozoans and hydroids the hard surfaces they need to thrive. Energy then flows up the food chain, providing biological growth that creates additional habitat and provides sustenance for snapper, grouper, mackerel, shark and other fish species. Since artificial reefs become such hotbeds of wildlife, divers and anglers benefit as well.
Oil rig workers and saltwater anglers have long noticed that petroleum platforms on the Continental Shelf act as unintentional artificial reefs, creating thousands of square miles of marine habitat Gulf-wide, as various species attach themselves to rigs below the waterline. The Texas Artificial Reef Program takes advantage of this insight, partnering with conservation organizations, corporations, communities and sportsmen to create and maintain more than 4,000 acres of artificial reef structures within Texas Gulf waters.
Recycling, Texas Style
The Artificial Reef Program focuses its efforts on three types of materials:
- Decommissioned drilling rigs in the Rigs-to-Reefs Program.
- Highway bridge materials and other sources of concrete and heavy-gauge steel in the Nearshore Reefing Program.
- Large marine vessels in the Ships-to-Reefs Program.
All materials must meet federal and state guidelines for environmental safety and be free of contaminants.
Turning Blue Into Green
Corporate petroleum partners in the Rigs-to-Reefs Program donate their post-production rigs to TPWD, thereby saving substantial costs of moving and dismantling obsolete rigs onshore. The amount of money a company saves varies; in some cases, a company reefs a rig at no savings to itself. Other companies have saved upwards of $700,000. Participating companies also invest in healthy marine ecology by contributing 50 percent of their cost savings to the Artificial Reef Program. In turn, the Artificial Reef Program uses these dedicated funds to construct more underwater habitat that supports the fishing industry, diving and sport-fishing tourism and the overall health of the Gulf. The program is a win-win for all involved. The majority of our funds come from the Rigs-to-Reefs program and through grants.