To protect natural reefs, we can start building artificial ones. Artificial reefs can serve different purposes. Some can prevent coastal erosion. They force waves offshore instead of landing on the coastline. Others can hold sediment on beaches. Still others are a habitat for aquatic life.
How do you build an artificial reef? A large object is installed where the sea bottom is flat and has no features. As ocean currents flow in this area, the number of plankton swell up. Small fish can now feed. This, in turn, draws larger fish to the area. Over time, a complex 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 creates the face on one of the underwater statues.
Creating an artificial reef takes time. MUSA president Roberto Abraham says that one of the challenges 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 MUSA found the right mix, they were able to create the statues. Then, they hand-seeded many of them. They placed young staghorn coral polyps on the surface. The change is slow. “They evolve every day,” Abraham says.
Corals decorate these MUSA statues.
Art isn’t the only way to make an artificial reef. Old oil rigs can also become reefs! Oil rigs are structures built in deep water. Usually, they are built on clay, mud, and sand. There, they drill for oil.
Some rigs no longer in use are turned into deep-sea artificial reefs. This program is called Rigs to Reefs. In the United States, many of the Gulf States participate. More than 500 rigs have been turned into reefs.
This rig may one day become part of an artificial reef.
These corals grow on an artificial reef. They are surrounded by fish.
Helping Out a Giant
A rig can provide a habitat for as many as 14,000 fish! It 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 rigs their home.
These rigs are even helping to bring back a threatened species. Goliath groupers have been protected since 1990. Still, they are at risk. In recent years, they have been most abundant near deep, artificial reefs.