The TPWD Artificial Reef Program's three dedicated employees, Dale Shively, Brooke Shipley, and Chris Ledford, love what they do.
J. Dale Shively, Artificial Reef Program Leader
Dale graduated from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia in 1984 with an M.S. in Oceanography. He has been in the fisheries field since graduating and with TPWD since 1993. Dale has also served more than 22 years with the U.S. Navy Reserves and is currently a meteorology and oceanography (METOC) officer.
What do you do?
Our team works with industry and the public to identify potential reef sites and suitable materials for creating and enhancing artificial reefs. We design and supervise reefing projects, then follow up with biological monitoring. We use skilled, scientific divers and other methods such as remote operated vehicles (ROV) and longlines to monitor the reefs continually. My responsibility as the leader is to manage this effort and put our resources where they are needed.
A good working knowledge of marine science is critical to this program. One of my key interests is trying to improve our reef design and its impact on recreational fishing and diving. Monitoring tells us whether a reef is meeting our objectives. Scuba diving is one of many tools that help answer our questions: Is marine life actively living on the reef, and are fish reproducing and using the site as shelter? Is the design of our reef sites cost-effective for TPWD and the most productive option for the marine environment? In other words, are we using state dollars effectively and getting a good return on our investment? In addition to these management questions, observations made through monitoring and research add to the overall scientific knowledge base of how artificial reefs affect and enhance marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.
The ultimate goal is to learn at what point a reef site reaches its maximum biological potential (the amount of marine life it can support is at its highest level) while still providing anglers and divers opportunities to use the resource.
What's your main interest in this project?
I enjoy taking a project from start to finish and feeling that sense of accomplishment when it is complete. It may sound clichéd, but it is a wonderful feeling to know that you have created something that is of benefit not only to marine life in general, but also to future generations of anglers and divers. An artificial reef can last for more than 100 years before the structure disintegrates, but the marine life will continue to grow and have positive impacts for many generations beyond that.
Do you get to do much diving?
Never enough! The diving is less than 10 percent of what I do. While the administration and contract management is necessary to the success of the program, it is always nice to personally dive on the reefs to be reminded of why I love this job.
What’s a memorable thing you’ve seen while diving the reefs?
The largest and most important project I have personally seen through to completion was the cleanup and sinking of the United States Training Ship (USTS) Texas Clipper. This veteran WWII ship is 473 feet long. For months I walked all over that ship during inspections, but when I actually witnessed her going under the ocean surface, the feeling was surreal. I could visualize what it may have been like to watch the Titanic sink. That reef is now an excellent dive site and home to many marine life species.
Dr. Brooke Shipley, Artificial Reef Chief Scientist and GIS Analyst
Dr. Brooke Shipley graduated from Baylor University in 1997. She completed her master’s degree through the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A&M University in 2000. In 2008, she received her Ph.D. through the Department of Marine Sciences from the University of South Alabama. Brooke has been with the Artificial Reef Program since 2009.
What do you do on a typical day?
I wear two hats within the program. I tend to switch between biological monitoring and assessment and Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis, multiple times a day. Currently, I am working on a TPWD Management Data Series publication, which requires an extensive amount of work in the biological monitoring database and within the GIS maps.
I create all of the GIS maps we use to help us pinpoint and monitor our reef sites. I am also responsible for maintaining the community map that our program uses on a daily basis. Nearly all of the GIS maps that our program uses for operations come from my desk.
Additionally, I’m often in the field with the Artificial Reef team. We are responsible for the actual monitoring of the reef sites, and some of our structures are in waters that are quite deep. Recently, I completed Heliair dive training, and I am now certified for decompression dives down to 160 feet.
What’s your main interest in this project?
I come from a family of mathematicians and engineers. I am the only scientist in three generations, but I still love math and order. I find it fascinating to make comparisons and analyses between differing reef structures and regions within our vast Texas waters. I enjoy combining my love of math and science through the use of models. We rely on these models to describe the ecosystem being studied and even make predictions.
Our program is truly one of the most unique programs I have ever been involved with. We have the ability to follow a single structure from the day it becomes a reef. This means that over the years we can follow the community and colonization of the reef site and determine the health of an ecosystem over time. It is truly amazing!
How much diving do you do?
I think the answer is always: never enough! I am fortunate to go diving with the program on nearly every trip we take. We take biological monitoring trips four days per month from March through October. We dive multiple times each day and come back to shore exhausted. In our off-season, we continue to train and dive in local lakes and occasionally in pools.
What’s a memorable thing you’ve seen while diving the reefs?
On one of my first dives with the program, I was lucky enough to see a whole school of hammerhead sharks swim past me early one spring. Hammerheads migrate through the area in the winter, and it was highly unusual to see them at the time.
Chris Ledford, Reef Specialist and Diving Safety Officer
Chris graduated in 1997 from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California with a double major in biology and zoology. He has an M.S. in Marine Biology from Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, and has been a professional diver since 1995. He has been with the Artificial Reef Program since 2010.
What’s your job with the Artificial Reef Program?
I do two different jobs: Artificial Reef Specialist and Diving Safety Officer. As Artificial Reef Specialist, I take care of permitting paperwork, keep track of what rigs we have in the program and manage the donations of new reefing material. The Rigs-to-Reefs program is a major portion of what we do.
I also go out in the field to inspect materials that might make good artificial reefs, such as quarry rocks we get from a couple of different oil-field drill-bit manufacturing companies. The manufacturers test their drill bits in a 6-by-8-foot block of rock that’s eventually filled with holes, which makes for great underwater habitat. The rocks are stored until we have enough of them to fill up a barge, and then we take them to one of our nearshore reef sites to increase habitat for fishing.
As Diving Safety Officer, I am in charge of the diving program, which includes maintaining the diving and sampling gear, providing training for the in-house dive team, creating dive plans and coordinating with scientific divers from other institutions such as Texas A&M–Galveston and the Moody Gardens Aquarium, which provide volunteers for our biological monitoring trips.
What’s your main interest in the project?
Diving, no doubt about it. The office work is important and required but not so exciting most of the time. With the research diving trips, we get to go out there and see and experience the end result of what we are spending so much time on in the office. We take monthly trips during the year, usually March through October, but we are planning on doing year-round monitoring soon.
What’s something cool you’ve seen in the Gulf?
Whale sharks! I saw one on a recreational trip to the Flower Gardens last year. It was pretty good size, about 30 feet long, which isn’t enormous for a whale shark, but is still a really big fish to see in person. But even just diving on the reefed structures is extraordinary. There just aren’t very many places on the planet where you can find these giant structures out in the middle of nowhere; it’s equivalent to an oasis in the desert. The amount of marine life living on and around the rigs is amazing, and you never know who or what is going to show up. Knowing that any dive could be the dive of a lifetime with whale sharks, hammerheads or some unknown critter swimming up from the depths is what keeps things really exciting.