Getting Started

To protect natural reefs, we can start building new reefs, artificial ones. Artificial reefs mimic, or copy, natural ones. But, they can be created for different purposes.

Some artificial reefs prevent coastal erosion. They force waves offshore rather than landing on the coastline. Others are meant to hold sediment on beaches. Still others are a habitat for fish and other aquatic life.

To build an artificial reef, a large object is installed in an area where the sea bottom is flat and featureless. When ocean currents meet with an object, an upswelling of plankton occurs. Small fish can now feed. This, in turn, draws larger fish to the area.

Over months and years, algae, barnacles, and oysters can attach. As time passes, a complex and diverse community of sea life becomes connected to the object.

These statues have been underwater for several years. Corals and algae grow on them. Fish swim among them.

Artist Jason deCaires Taylor carefully crafts the face on one  of the underwater statues.

Seeding Solutions

Creating an artificial reef takes time. MUSA president Roberto Abraham says that one of the greatest challenges in creating the underwater sculptures was using the right cement.

If the cement isn’t strong enough, the statues crumble over time. If the surface is too acidic, corals and algae can’t take hold and grow.

Once the MUSA staff and artists found the right mix, they were able to create the statues. Then, they hand-seeded many of the statues. They placed young staghorn coral polyps on the surface to give the growth a head start. The change is slow, but miraculous. “They evolve every day,” Abraham says.

Corals decorate these MUSA statues.

Repurposing Rigs

Art isn’t the only way to make an artificial reef. Abandoned oil rigs can also double as reefs! Oil rigs are huge structures built in deep water. Usually, they are built on clay, mud, and sand. It’s where people drill for oil.

When these rigs are no longer in use, the Rigs to Reefs program turns them into deep-sea artificial reefs. In the United States, many of the Gulf States participate in this program. To date, more than 500 rigs have been converted to reefs, mostly in Texas and Louisiana.

This rig may one day become part of an artificial reef.

Surrounded by fish, these corals grow on an artificial reef. 

Helping Out a Giant

A typical rig can provide a habitat for as many as 14,000 fish! A rig can support more marine life than natural reefs do. The steel is a good surface for corals and sponges. Red snapper, hogfish, and barracudas make the rigs their home.

These rigs are even helping to bring back a threatened species. Goliath groupers have been protected since 1990 but are still vulnerable. These fish can weigh almost 363 kilograms ​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​(800 pounds).
In recent years, they have been most abundant near deep, artificial reefs.