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Artificial Reefs

Watch videos about Building an Artificial Reef and the expansion of the Smithtown Artificial Reef on DEC's YouTube Channel.

Updates:

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the largest expansion (link leaves DEC's website) of the Artificial Reef Program in state history, carried out by a multi-agency coordination and with recycled material from the Department of Transportation, Canal Corporation, and the Thruway Authority. Materials deployed for additional reef structure include tug boats, barges, scows, clean concrete and steel, and recycled materials from the demolition of the Tappan Zee Bridge. These materials supported the development of six artificial reefs on Long Island at sites off the shores of Smithtown, Shinnecock, Moriches, Fire Island, Hempstead, and Rockaway.

Download our brochure describing the program with a map of all the reef sites (PDF, 914 KB).

Artificial Reefs in New York

Fish swimming around submergered material on Moriches Reef
Blackfish (tautog) and black sea bass on Moriches Reef
Photo by: Rob Schepis

The NYS Artificial Reef Program was officially created in 1962, although documented construction of New York's first artificial reef dates back to 1949 on McAllister Grounds. DEC established a Marine Artificial Reef Development and Management Plan in 1993.

Currently, New York has 12 artificial reef sites, including:

  • Two in Long Island Sound
  • Two in Great South Bay
  • Eight in the Atlantic Ocean on the south shore of Long Island.

The reef program uses the "patch reef" method of construction where clean rock, concrete, and steel in various forms are placed in discreet parts of the reef site leaving natural benthic habitat in between. Placing different material in "patches" on each site provides a variety of habitats for marine life to use and helps increase species diversity.

An example of a patch reef formation can be seen in the image below of a bathymetric survey of Moriches Reef.

Under water survey showing the Moriches Reef
Bathymetric survey of Moriches Reef

Under the Reef Development and Management Plan the Reef Program has successfully enhanced New York's artificial reef sites through the addition of hundreds of patch reefs. Patch reefs have been created using a variety of materials ranging from clean dredge rock, recycled bridge concrete, steel barges and vessels and surplus armored military vehicles. All materials deployed meet both national standards and New York Reef Program guidelines.

The Reef Program has worked cooperatively with Federal Agencies (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and National Marine Fisheries Service), local fishing clubs, and other groups to improve reef sites through material donation and project sponsorship.

In 2018, the Artificial Reef Program underwent the largest expansion in state history, which included deployment of recycled and cleaned materials from the New York State Canal Corporation (NYSCC), Thruway Authority, Department of Transportation (DOT), New York Power Authority (NYPA), and parts of the decommissioned Tappan Zee Bridge.

What is an Artificial Reef?

Artificial reefs (link leaves DEC's website) are manmade structures which are "aquatically recycled" to provide habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms. They are made with a variety of hard, durable materials including rock, concrete, and steel, which are selected based on their function, compatibility, stability, and availability. These characteristics ensure that once deployed the material will provide suitable habitat for marine life that is safe, effective, and will last a long time.

Why Build Artificial Reefs?

Charter fishing boat in the water off Fire Island with Fire Island Lighthouse in the background
Charter fishing boat off of Fire Island National Seashore.

Artificial reefs are used to create complex habitat in areas which lack intricate hard bottom structure. This is common off the shores of New York which is primarily a flat sand/silt bottom. Artificial reefs enhance the environment by creating a biologically diverse area which provides food and shelter to a range of marine organisms. Over time, hard structures on the reefs are covered with algae, mussels, barnacles, sponges, anemones, hydroids, temperate corals, and other types of encrusting organisms.

Many fish and crustacean species including black sea bass, tautog (blackfish), scup (porgy), summer flounder (fluke), and lobsters are attracted to reefs and the surrounding area for food and shelter. Artificial reefs have also been used by fish to spawn. As the reef matures, it resembles a natural reef and provides increased saltwater fishing and diving opportunities to the public.

Does the Material Harm the Marine Environment?

Construction material being deployed from a barge to provide additional structure to Shinnecock Reef
Parts of Tappan Zee Bridge become marine habitat on
Shinnecock Reef.

All materials placed on reefs are selected and prepared for use on reefs are scrutinized based on national standards, DEC guidelines, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) best management practices. This ensures the materials are cleaned properly, will function as intended, and will not harm the environment. All materials are inspected by the DEC and vessels are inspected cooperatively with the United States Coast Guard prior to deployment. Materials must be free of substances that pose harm to the marine environment, including but not limited to petroleum products, and PCB's.

In order to construct an artificial reef, the DEC must obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, a New York state water quality certification, and a New York state coastal consistency concurrence. The permit process is reviewed by various state and federal agencies including the EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA), and others. This ensures all environmental rules and regulations are followed certifying that nothing harmful will be discharged into our waters.

Coast Guard and DEC staff on a vessel inspecting it for use to aid in building the reef
US Coast Guard and DEC staff inspect vessel for use on reef sites.

Isn't this Ocean Dumping and Shouldn't These Materials be Recycled?

In some instances, artificial reefs have been wrongly labeled as "ocean dumping". Artificial reef construction is not ocean dumping for a number of reasons. Ocean dumping is the disposal of trash into the water which is littering and it is illegal. All materials placed on artificial reefs require permits from federal and state agencies and are carefully selected, inspected, and prepared based on nationally accepted guidelines, DEC standards, and EPA best management practices ensuring that the material is clean and will function as intended.

Material placed on artificial reefs are primarily secondary use, meaning that they have served their usable lives as originally designed and are no longer useful for their original purpose. In some cases, these materials are recycled as we have come to understand recycling in the traditional sense. Other times, the cost to prepare and/or transport material to be recycled is prohibitive to do so, and the object is destined to remain on land providing no usable function. When this occurs, it's worthwhile providing these materials a second life by recycling them into marine habitat, giving them a new purpose, and turning them back into productive materials. This aquatic recycling provides many benefits to the marine ecosystem, the fish and other organisms that rely on complex structures for habitat, the fishing and diving communities in the region, and our local economy.

A Canal vessel which has been decommisioned being lowered by a crane with a boat nearby
A decommissioned 115' NYS Canal vessel is lowered to the seafloor.

Can I Build My Own Reef?

Did you know that most of our reefs were built through the donation of materials and resources from fishing and diving clubs, government agencies, private businesses and individuals? In the past, some private organizations working cooperatively with DEC have adopted sites to build patch reefs on while enjoying the local fishing and diving benefits they provide. If you are interested in adopting a site, donating material, or getting involved, please call 631-444-0438 or email artificialreefs@dec.ny.gov.

DEC is the only entity in New York that may obtain permits to build artificial reefs in the marine waters of the state. Any unauthorized placement of materials in the marine environment is a violation and subject to legal action.

School of black sea bass swim over submerged vessel on Shinnecock Reef
Black sea bass swim over a submerged vessel
on Shinnecock Reef just weeks after deployment.
Photo Credit: Elliot Bertoni, Halftime Wreck Diving

Do You Fish or Dive on New York's Artificial Reefs?

While visiting New York's artificial reefs, you have the opportunity to observe a variety of unique marine habitats, organisms, and environmental conditions. Please consider sharing your observations while fishing or diving with the DEC Artificial Reef Program. The information you provide will help us learn more about the marine life on our artificial reefs and how to improve your experience on our reefs.

Visit Become a Volunteer Reef Angler or Diver to learn how to participate!


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  • Division of Marine Resources
    205 North Belle Mead Road, Suite 1
    East Setauket, New York 11733
    631-444-0438
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