Artificial reefs make it all real. The fish. The coral. The adventure. And the savings.

Artificial Reef Program

Divers on the reef.
Divers on the reef

The Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas hosts commercial and recreational fishing and diving and plays an important role in local economies. It provides vital habitat for marine life of all types and links us with the ocean through an interconnected environment. Artificial reefs enhance this marine environment by providing additional habitat needed by marine life. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Artificial Reef Program, funded through industry partnerships and grants, creates and enhances this critical marine habitat to benefit Texans and the natural environment.

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.

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 (PDF, 3.2MB), 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 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.