While I am not typically a fan of most things associated with the state of Alabama, they hit it out of the park when considering Bama’s artificial reef program. It’s comprised of inshore, nearshore, and offshore reef sites stretching out over a combined area of 1,260 square miles; moreover, it utilizes a multitude of readily available materials including: decommissioned oil & gas rig platforms, derelict bridge rubble, surplus military equipment, metal chicken coops, and even the lowly shopping cart, spread out over 14 individual permit sites. To date, Alabama has the largest artificial reef program in the United States.
Yes, you heard me correctly. The same carts you push around making groceries can be wired together and stretched across the barren sand bottom of the northern Gulf of Mexico to provide a habitat for an entire food chain of animals ranging from sponges to the American Red Snapper, Blackfin Tuna, and various species of grouper. The state even allows for individuals to sink private wrecks after acquiring a permit to do so.
Alabama’s Reef Program is Born
Bama’s reef program was officially created in 1953 when the Orange Beach Charter Boat Association requested permission to submerge 250 car bodies off the beaches of Baldwin County. In 1974, several liberty ships were sunk in 80 – 90 feet of water around both Mobile and Baldwin counties. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit in 1987 creating specific areas for these artificial reefs to be permanently located.
Furthermore, beginning in 1994, through cooperation with the federal government, remilitarized tanks were jettisoned through the program REEF – EX. It was quickly realized that these tanks would provide a suitable marine habitat for upwards of 50 years. This realization combined with an associated economic impact of millions of dollars over the lifetimes of these reefs proved to be extremely beneficial. These 100 tanks are located in the Hugh Swingle and Don Kelly North artificial reef areas in roughly 70 – 100 feet of water. This makes them easily assessable to both fishermen and scuba divers alike.
Inshore Reefs become a Necessity
In 1996, state officials realized a booming demand for inshore reefs by recreational fisherman. Once again, bridge rubble would be utilized as reef building materials deployed over old oyster beds. Culture material was added in the center to recreate a natural oyster reef community. These sites have become popular with anglers chasing speckled trout, redfish, and flounder. The state has plans to further expand this program as funding becomes available.