Artificial reef building project planned for summer 2014

emoody@beaufortgazette.comOctober 15, 2013 

Within a year or so, barnacles and soft sponges will start to gather, covering the hard metal surfaces that once provided safety to soldiers in Vietnam.

Fish will seek cover and food in the boxy caverns on the ocean floor.

And that will attract anglers and divers.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources Office of Fisheries, the S.C. Army National Guard, the town of Port Royal and the city of Beaufort are working to build an artificial reef with surplus military vehicles in late spring or early summer off the coast of Beaufort.

"It's like a manmade cave that we are putting on the bottom," said Bob Martore of DNR.

Frank Gibson III with the Beaufort Sportfishing & Diving Club said it's incredible how the ocean transforms the junk metal into marine habitat.

"The people who've never been diving are kind of mesmerized by seeing the sharks, the flounder, the grouper there," he said.

To build the reefs, stripped and cleaned decommissioned military equipment is dumped in strategic locations offshore, Martore said. About a dozen sites exist off Beaufort County, and DNR periodically adds to them as material becomes available.

More than a decade ago, 54 tanks were dumped in different sites off Beaufort waters to create reefs, such as the "Beaufort 45." Shipping containers have been added over the years, as well as subway cars and parts of the old Broad River Bridge.

Sites are marked with buoys so fishermen and divers can find them. Martore said about one-third of offshore fishing expeditions in South Carolina use the artificial reefs. The reefs generate about $83 million annually for the state's economy, he said.

For the upcoming project, armored personnel carriers will be deposited south of the mouth of Port Royal Sound at the Eagles Nest and Betsy Ross sites, which are within 12 miles of shore.

Martore said the National Guard is paying for the project and treats it as a training opportunity. The tanks will be loaded onto transport barges in Charleston and brought to Beaufort.

"There's not much else they can do with these vehicles," he said. "They haven't been used in 30 years."

Before building the reefs, an environmental study is performed and protocols developed for cleaning the materials. Within a year, sea life usually covers most of the metal, preventing oxidation or rust. Over time, the sunken boats, tanks and other objects become completely overgrown with "long puffs of soft corals," he said.

"There's really no negative environmental impact of putting them in," Martore said.

DNR and other groups periodically study the artificial reefs, as well as the animals and plants that gather there, he said. Some have been in place for about two decades.


Video from DNR

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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