Artificial Reefs

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Artificial Reefs

Navigation and Navigable Waters


By: United States Code

Date: 1984

Source: United States Code. Title 33. Chapter 35, Sections 2101, 2102, and 2103.

About the Author: The U.S. Code is the set of general and permanent laws that govern the United States. The House of Representatives prepares the Code, and revisions are published every six years. The Code is arranged into 50 Titles. Title 33 deals with navigation and navigable waters. Chapter 35 concerns artificial reefs.


An artificial reef is any structure that is placed in the ocean to provide a habitat for marine organisms. Many marine fish and invertebrates hide in and hunt from holes and cracks in reefs. Reefs provide the hard surfaces that are necessary for sessile marine animals and plants that require firm substrate in order to grow. Because reefs play such a key role in the lives of so many marine organisms, reefs attract large numbers of animals and plants as well as a broad diversity of species.

In order to enhance sport fishing and recreational diving, many coastal communities have begun placing structures offshore to create artificial reefs. Artificial reefs have been made out of decommissioned ships, railroad cars, airplanes, automobiles, rubble from bridges, and a variety of structures specifically manufactured to be used as artificial reefs. In 1979, a decommissioned gas and oil rig was moved from Louisiana to a site off of Franklin County, Florida to be used as an artificial reef. This project was extremely successful.

In 1980, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) within the United States Department of the Interior established a task force to study the conversion of oil and gas rigs into artificial reefs. The task force was composed of representatives from the petroleum industry, universities, and state and federal governments. As a result of the work by this group, in 1984, the National Fishing Enhancement Act was signed into law. It includes a National Artificial Reef Plan (NARP), which provides for planning, permitting, constructing, installing, monitoring, managing, and maintaining artificial reefs.




Sec. 2101. Congressional statement of findings and purpose

(a) The Congress finds that—

(1) although fishery products provide an important source of protein and industrial products for United States consumption, United States fishery production annually falls far short of satisfying United States demand;

(2) overfishing and the degradation of vital fishery resource habitats have caused a reduction in the abundance and diversity of United States fishery resources;

(3) escalated energy costs have had a negative effect on the economics of United States commercial and recreational fisheries;

(4) commercial and recreational fisheries are a prominent factor in United States coastal economies and the direct and indirect returns to the United States economy from commercial and recreational fishing expenditures are threefold; and

(5) properly designed, constructed, and located artificial reefs in waters covered under this chapter can enhance the habitat and diversity of fishery resources; enhance United States recreational and commercial fishing opportunities; increase the production of fishery products in the United States; increase the energy efficiency of recreational and commercial fisheries; and contribute to the United States and coastal economies.

(b) The purpose of this chapter is to promote and facilitate responsible and effective efforts to establish artificial reefs in waters covered under this chapter.

Sec. 2102. Establishment of standards Based on the best scientific information available, artificial reefs in waters covered under this chapter shall be sited and constructed, and subsequently monitored and managed in a manner which will—

(1) enhance fishery resources to the maximum extent practicable;

(2) facilitate access and utilization by United States recreational and commercial fishermen;

(3) minimize conflicts among competing uses of waters covered under this chapter and the resources in such waters;

(4) minimize environmental risks and risks to personal health and property; and

(5) be consistent with generally accepted principles of international law and shall not create any unreasonable obstruction to navigation.

Sec. 2103. National artificial reef plan Not later than one year after November 8, 1984, the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Defense, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Secretary of the Department in which the Coast Guard is operating, the Regional Fishery Management Councils, interested States, Interstate Fishery Commissions, and representatives of the private sector, shall develop and publish a long-term plan which will meet the purpose of this chapter and be consistent with the standards established under section 2102 of this chapter. The plan must include—

(1) geographic, hydrographic, geologic, biological, ecological, social, economic, and other criteria for siting artificial reefs;

(2) design, material, and other criteria for constructing artificial reefs;

(3) mechanisms and methodologies for monitoring the compliance of artificial reefs with the requirements of permits issued under section 2104 of this title;

(4) mechanisms and methodologies for managing the use of artificial reefs;

(5) a synopsis of existing information on artificial reefs and needs for further research on artificial reef technology and management strategies; and

(6) an evaluation of alternatives for facilitating the transfer of artificial reef construction materials to persons holding permits issued pursuant to section 2104 of this title, including, but not limited to, credits for environmental mitigation and modified tax obligations.


The National Artificial Reef Plan is better known as Rigs-to-Reefs. The program has been successful in the Gulf of Mexico, and is a rare example of cooperation by environmental groups, the government, and the oil industry in which all members benefit. Between 1987 and 2000, 151 decommissioned oil and gas rigs were donated to states in the Gulf of Mexico, making the region the largest artificial reef complex in the world.

Under Rigs-to-Reefs, petroleum companies donate oil and gas structures to the state. The state develops a plan for converting the rig to a reef. After the rig is moved and set in place, the company donates half the cost it would have incurred to dispose of the structure to the state. The donated money is invested in environmental trust funds that are used for fisheries conservation, research, and environmental management. In the thirteen years between 1987 and 2000, nearly $20 million was donated to states from petroleum companies as a result of the Rigs-to-Reefs program. It is assumed that the companies involved saved a similar amount in the cost of disposing of the rigs. After conversion of the petroleum platform to an artificial reef, the state takes responsibility for the maintenance and management of the structure.

Through the Rigs-to-Reefs program, oil and gas platforms have become the most desirable type of artificial reef. The shape of their structure allows water to continuously circulate through its openings. Fish, crabs, and lobsters can easily swim through and around the surfaces. Both bottom-dwellers and animals that live near the ocean surface are attracted to these environments. Some research shows that fish densities near converted oil platforms are twenty to fifty times greater than in surrounding waters. Nearly 30 percent of the recreational fish catch in Louisiana and Texas occurs near oil and gas platforms. In addition, as oil and gas platforms are constructed to withstand the ocean environment, they last longer and stay in place better than other types of artificial reefs.

While Rigs-to-Reefs has been a success in the Gulf of Mexico, as of 2000, California had not converted any oil and gas platforms into artificial reefs. Environmental groups in California have raised concerns that creating artificial reefs is in conflict with the state's policy to return the sea floor to its natural condition after decommissioning petroleum platforms. In addition, ecologists have concerns that artificial reefs may modify the habitat making fish easier to catch rather than producing more fish. Finally, California is struggling with determining how to assign responsibility for maintenance and management of and liability for artificial reefs made from petroleum rigs.



Reggio, V. C., Jr. "Rigs-to-Reefs: The Use of Obsolete Petroleum Structures as Artificial Reefs." U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, New Orleans, La. OCS Report MMS 87-0015 (1987): 17 pp.

Stanley, D. R., and C. A. Wilson. "Seasonal and Spatial Variation in Abundance and Size Distribution of Fishes Associated with a Petroleum Platform." Journal of Marine Science. (1997): 202, 473-475.

Web sites

Dauterive, Les. "Rigs-to-Reefs Policy, Progress, and Perspective." Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf Region, OCS Report MMS 2000-073, October 2000. 〈〉 (accessed March 1, 2006).

Higgins, Margot. "Rigs-to-Reefs Plan May Lack Storybook Ending." Environmental News Network, January 7, 2000. 〈〉 (accessed March 1, 2006).

U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service. "Gulf of Mexico Region, Environmental Information: Rigs to Reefs Information." Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf Region. 〈〉 (accessed March 1, 2006).

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Artificial Reefs

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