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June 1998 Vol. 13, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Artificial Reefs or Ocean Dumping?

from the June, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When reefs get fished out, people decide to build new ones, expecting that somehow they will increase fish populations. Everything from ratty old tug boats to truckloads of rubber tires, from junked cars to cement pillars has been dumped under the pretext of reef building. Florida has allowed nearly 600 artificial reefs to be built out of junk. California has allowed only 35, most of which are constructed from rock.

According to reports in E Magazine, artificial reefs do little to increase fish populations. A researcher at the University of Washington, who found fish populations at artificial reefs to be "very similar" to those at nearby reefs with no new species, concluded that fish were merely moving from one reef to the other. "Artificial reefs simply concentrate fish, making them easier to catch," says James Bohnsack, a Florida-based biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Jeff Polovina, a Hawaii-based NMFS biologist, agrees. "There's no evidence that if you put out an enormous volume [of artificial reef habitat] you're going to get an enormous increase in fish productivity," he says. Other critics add that allowing artificial underwater environments sets a dangerous precedent in creating Disney-like recreation.

With that evidence, why are artificial reefs so popular? "People like to sink things," says Bohnsack.

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