New Life for Old Vessels

What do twelve Liberty ships, four deck barges, two tugboats, one shrimp boat, and a 100-foot Navy dive barge have in common? All of these vessels serve as artificial reefs on the floor of the Texas Gulf coast.

The complex cleaning and prepping process for a ship is exemplified in this 100-page report about the sinking of the Texas Clipper: National Guidance: Best Management Practices for Preparing Vessels Intended to Create Artificial Reefs.

A Few Good Liberty Ships

During World War II, Liberty ships carried supplies, oil and personnel into the most dangerous waters. Some sailed to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, carrying Army and Red Cross personnel ashore. Another landed at Mindanao in the Philippines. Two more repelled the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean. Still others carried supplies to the besieged city of Antwerp, Belgium and to Suez during the Battle of El Alamein.

Where are the Liberty ships now?

Their wartime duties behind them, the twelve Liberty ships continue to serve, now as artificial reefs off the coast of Texas. Most were intentionally sunk between 1975–76 by the Texas Coastal and Marine Council. They were later transferred to Texas Parks and Wildlife and form the centerpiece of the Texas Ships-to-Reefs program.

The Liberty ships and one WWII tanker, the SS John Worthington, are readily accessible reef sites, clustered in five groups on the Gulf floor.

Each ship has a unique story to tell. Read the full history (PDF, 11.4MB) of each Liberty ship in this 144-page compilation from the Texas Historical Commission and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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.