A marine artificial reef is an added substrate positioned on a flat, featureless, sandy ocean bottom. The reef is totally natural, with the exception of the structure on which it grows. Natural reefs occur on rocky outcroppings, such as limestone ledges, and are found in small areas. Artificial reefs are created using recycled sunken ships, barges, boats, and bridges. Marine organisms attach to the structures and, after a few years, it is hard to tell the difference between a natural and an artificial reef.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources began its active reef program in 1973, and it now monitors 42 reef sites. These sites, which are located in waters from 9 to 110 feet deep, can be in estuarine conditions or 32 miles offshore. Recreational fishermen and divers are the primary users of the reefs. Permits granting the use of reefs are offered by DNR.
DNR selects the sites and materials for new reefs. Designed habitat structures, also called reef balls, are made of steel, concrete, or plastic. These reefs are buoyed and often monitored by side-scan sonar. Sonar is also used to choose areas and to keep track of materials.
ROV is a camera in a box with a motor. With a 500-foot-depth capability, the robot camera can go deeper, and in colder waters, than a human diver. Scuba is the other main means of diving, which is used by four DNR divers to look at the reefs up close.
Special programs are hosted by DNR. For more information, call 1-800-762- 5000.