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April 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Trouble with Artificial Reefs

from the April, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Artificial reefs, created by deliberately sunk ships and other structures, may not be all they're cracked up to be, according to two American academics.

William Lindberg, a professor of fisheries science at the University of Florida, says that artificial reefs may actually hinder rather than improve levels of marine life in the surrounding area. His logic is that fish populations can be drawn to an artificial reef - and then be destroyed by fishermen who are drawn to the same place. "You can use them as a tool for economies," he told the Herald Tribune. You may be able to use them as a tool for ecological benefits, but you can't necessarily do both simultaneously with the same reef."

The way around such a problem is for fishing bans or restrictions to be put in place. These do exist for some ships sunk as reefs and diving attractions because, apart from anything else, masses of fishing hooks and masses of visiting divers do not mix well. However, another less easily solved problem is that of a shortage of food that can occur on artificial reefs for, say, grouper and snappers. A study five years ago by Lindberg and five other scientists found that the grouper that chose the safety and shelter of an artificial reef were significantly lighter than those living in less sheltered but more nutritious areas. Likening an artificial reef to a city, Lindberg said, "You can have a city of several million people, but you better have some farmland out there producing food for them."

James Cowan, a professor of oceanography and coastal science at Louisiana State University, agrees. He says a number of studies, some dating back 25 years, have shown that some fish species need to travel to find their primary food source if they are to grow and reach adulthood. He also mentioned that reefs are often placed where people want them, rather than where is best for regional marine life. Sometimes a reef is created in an area that "would be, in nature, the nursery habitat." As a result, adult fish can end up living among and competing with juveniles, and more predators are drawn to the nursery area, further threatening the young.

- - DIVER magazine

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