Artificial reefs make it all real.

The Beginning of the Program

School of fish inhabits a reefed oil platform.

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.

Underwater Oases

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:

  1. Decommissioned drilling rigs in the Rigs-to-Reefs Program.
  2. Highway bridge materials and other sources of concrete and heavy-gauge steel in the Nearshore Reefing Program.
  3. 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

The reef attracts many forms of sea life.

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.

Click the following link to read or download a brochure (PDF, 492KB) about the Texas Artificial Reef program.

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.