Artificial Reefs

Manatee County has been involved in reef construction since the late 1960’s and currently has 12 artificial reefs with one permitted site ready for future habitat creation. The County’s major objectives in constructing artificial reefs are to create an underwater environment that balances public user-group interests, such as fishing and diving with resource conservation and minimal environmental impact.


Reef Design and Types of Materials

To construct the reefs a variety of building materials have been used in the past and typically were previously intended for other purposes or consist of materials from structures that are being torn down and/or replaced.

These materials of opportunity used in combination with natural materials (limestone boulders) will be used to create the most beneficial and biologically diverse community structure.

The County, when possible, will strive to create the most natural rocky bottom substrate using natural materials such as limestone as it is the most suitable material for artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Reef Management and Monitoring

The artificial reef will be monitored in accordance with conditions of the permits, laws or regulations, as well as for performance monitoring to assure the reefs meet general project objectives and goals.

Monitoring strategies will ultimately be useful for improving existing reefs, creation of future reefs and to document the need for alternative management strategies.

Recent Reef Projects

Initial permits were obtained for two new reefs, Borden Reef and Bridge Reef in 2016. Grant awards and donations allowed for construction to begin on Borden Reef in early 2017 with a second deployment in July 2018 and a third deployment scheduled for summer of 2020.
Bridge Reef construction will follow once funding is obtained.

Diving on an Artificial Reef

Numerous marine organisms live in and around the reefs and provide divers and snorkelers with an amazing underwater experience.

A variety of invertebrates, such as tunicates, sea urchins and sea stars can be found living on the reef structure. Lobster, stone crab, triggerfish, damselfish, angel fish, and many other tropical reef fish are curious and will easily be observed. Closer inspection of ledges and crevices might reveal larger sport fish, such as gag and red grouper along with mangrove, yellowtail and hog snapper.

Divers, please remember to exercise caution due to strong tidal currents, poor visibility, and entanglements. We ask that all divers follow the guidelines below in order to ensure safe recreational activities:

  • When diving over a reef, always leave someone aboard the boat who can operate it in an emergency
  • Use a dive flag.
  • Dive with a buddy
  • Only dive within your capability
  • As current strength and visibility vary from day to day, pre-dive planning and staying with that plan are paramount to your safety

Warning to Divers: Substrate could shift or move never swim/dive into crevices or cave-like areas.

Fishing on an Artificial Reef

Many different species of fish can be caught over or near artificial reefs; grouper, snapper, sheepshead, cobia, and Spanish mackerel will be of special interest to anglers. Additionally, schools of offshore bait fish concentrate above the reef material.

For current fishing restrictions please visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

If you catch or see an injured sea turtle or marine mammal, call the Stranding Investigation Program’s 24 hour pager at (941) 988-0212 or call the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.

To preserve these artificial structures please adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Please anchor a safe distance from the reef structure to avoid anchor and tackle entanglements.
  • Respect any divers in the area.
  • If you approach a reef and notice several boats anchor-fishing, please respect their rights at the time and refrain from drift-fishing.
  • Be aware of current state and national fishing restrictions. Certain species, such as grouper, are slow-growing fish and must be protected and conserved and other species are only available seasonally.

REDUCE ACCIDENTAL CAPTURES AND INJURIES OF MARINE LIFE:

Never leave behind fishing gear. Anchor lines, fishing lines and nets can entangle and kill sea turtles and marine mammals.

Change location and don’t cast your line if sea turtles or marine mammals are in the area.

Use barbless hooks and recycle fishing line.

It is illegal and harmful to feed sea turtles or marine mammals so do not discard bait or fish remains in the area.

 

REDUCE INJURIES TO SEA TURTLE IF CAUGHT OR ENTANGLED:

  • If you hook or entangle a sea turtle call the stranding network (941) 988-0212.
  • Keep hands/fingers away from the mouth. 
  • DO NOT PULL ON THE HOOK?LINE. Use a net or lift the turtle from the water by the side of the shell . 
  • DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE HOOK. If you can cut the line leave at LEAST 2 FEET of line to help with removal by trained responder.
  • Shade the turtle from the sunlight and place a damp towel over the shell.
  • If you are unable to bring the turtle to shore or reach the stranding network cut the fishing line as close to the mouth as you can and release the turtle DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE HOOK.

Office of Sustainable Fisheries “Fishing Tips to Protect Sea Turtles and Marine Mammals”. NOAA Fisheries, 1/31/2018 www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/recreational-fishing/fishing-tips-protect-sea-turtles-and-marine-mammals

FAQ

What is an artificial reef?
An artificial reef is a man-made underwater structure constructed to provide habitat for marine organisms.

How many reefs are in Manatee County? Currently there are 11 established artificial reefs but the County has permits to construct two more for a soon to be total of 13.

What are the benefits of an artificial reef?
Artificial reefs increase hardbottom habitat and create suitable substrate for colonization of marine fish, crustaceans and encrusting organisms which augments total area of quality reef habitat. Artificial reefs also create beautiful marine habitat for scuba diving/snorkeling and sport fishing opportunities which boosts the local economy.

Warning to Divers: Substrate could shift or move never swim/dive into crevices or cave-like areas.

What are the different reef coordinates? *see the Interactive Reef Presentation link above for side scan images of the seafloor at One Mile, Three Mile North and Seven Mile North artificial reefs.

Seven Mile North
 27 32.39  -82 52.71 
Seven Mile South  27 26.59 -82 49.20
Southeast Tampa Reef  27 32.90 -82 40.30
Three Mile South
 27 26.56 -82 44.85
Whale Key Reef  27 23.50 -82 36.27
Near Shore Reef
 27 26.99
-82 41.83
Three Mile North
 27 29.99
-82 47.00
Bayshore South Reef
 27 23.90
-82 35.60
Bulkhead Reef
 27 33.19
-82 42.37
Bayshore North Reef
 27 24.50
-82 36.10
One Mile Reef
 27 29.41
-82 44.99

Invasive Marine Species

LION FISH
Pterois volitans



Photo by Michael Gäbler (Wikipedia Commons[1])

Species Description:[2]
Native to South Pacific and Indian Ocean, the Lion Fish is one of Florida’s more well-known aquatic invasive species. Lion fish are recognizable by their red or brown and white-striped appearance and by the dorsal spines and pectoral fan. These fish can grow up to 18 inches long and are seen near hard and soft bottomed environments including seagrass beds, coral and artificial reefs up to 300 feet deep.

Details on Non-Native Species:[3]
Lion fish are native to the South Pacific and Indian Ocean but have become established along the Gulf Coast and up the Atlantic Coast. Lionfish were first reported in Southern Florida off the Atlantic Coast in 1985, however there is no agreement on how they were originally introduced. Since 1985 they have since become established throughout the entire Gulf Coast up to the Panhandle. They are considered a threat to native marine species and are known to consume over 50 species of fish.

What You Can Do:
When you are diving, snorkeling or in the water keep an eye out for Lionfish. During the day these fish may be found hiding along rock crevices or along ledges and hidden amongst artificial reef structures. If a Lionfish is seen, please log information such as location coordinates, depth, date, and any pictures (if possible) and send them to Marine Resources Coordinator, Kristin Erickson at kristin.erickson@mymanatee.org While harvesting is legal and desired, special precautions should be taken and proper equipment used as their spines can deliver a venomous sting that can cause extreme pain and more severe reactions in certain individuals.

[1] Photo by Michael Gäbler (Wikipedia Commons)
[2]https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html
[3] https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/marine-fish/scorpionfish-and-lionfish/lionfish/


Tessellated Blenny
Hypsoblennius invemar


Photo by Jackie Reid: NOAA Photo Library [1]

Species Description:
The Tessellated Blenny is a small fish up to 2.5 inches long with a colorful orange and black spot pattern that covers a blue tinted head, fins, and body. These fish are native to South and Central America and were first reported in Florida in 1992. There is uncertainty about their initial introduction but they are predominantly found within the Mediterranean Barnacle (Megabalanus antillensis) on oil rig and pier pilings at depths usually less than 15 feet.

Details on Non-Native Species:[2]
Documented in Florida since 1992, Tessellated Blenny’s may have existed previously but been overlooked in surveys. The Tessellated Blenny is thought to have been introduced to the northern Gulf of Mexico but there is limited research on this species. With limited research of this species in Florida, the impact of this species to the native ecosystem in Southwest Florida is unknown.

What You Can Do:
Should you see this species off of Manatee County please record coordinates, depth, and description of habitat and share this information and any photos of the individual with Marine Resources Coordinator, Kristin Erickson at kristin.erickson@mymanatee.org

[1] Jackie Reid: NOAA Photo Library
[2]https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=2638



Regal Damselfish
Neopomacentrus cyanomos


Photo by federal government public domain [1]

Species Description:
The Regal Damselfish is native to the Indian and West Pacific Ocean: Red Sea and East Africa to the Philippines, north to southern Japan, south to northern Australia and Melanesia (except Fiji) [2]. The Regal Damselfish is identified by a dark ear spot below the first dorsal spine and white/ yellow coloration on the bottom of the soft dorsal and center of the caudal fin [3]. Average size of these fish is 2 inches long. The adults show schooling behavior and are observed on inshore/offshore reefs, protected outer reef slopes and current prone habitats from shallow areas to ~80 feet [4].

Details on Non-Native Species:
Regal Damselfish have become established along the Gulf of Mexico, Florida coastal waters off the panhandle and Mexico Beach. Regal Damselfish were first reported in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017, however they were first observed in the Gulf of Mexico near Coatzacoalcos, Mexico in 2013. It is unsure how they were introduced but it is likely they are in competition with native damselfish [5,6].

What You Can Do:
When you are diving, snorkeling or in the water keep an eye out for this Regal Damselfish. If a Regal Damselfish is seen, please log information such as location coordinates, depth, date, and any pictures (if possible) and send them to Marine Resources Coordinator, Kristin Erickson at kristin.erickson@mymanatee.org

[1] Image is credited to the federal government (U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or their employees) are in the public domain and may be taken from this site and used without permission, though a photo credit is appreciated.
[2] Allen GR (1991) Damselfishes of the world. Mergus Publishers, Melle, Germany, 271 pp
[3] Bennett et al. (2019), BioInvasions Records 8(1): 154–166, https://doi.org/10.3391/bir.2019.8.1.17
[4] Kuiter, R.H. and T. Tonozuka, 2001. Pictorial guide to Indonesian reef fishes. Part 2. Fusiliers - Dragonets, Caesionidae - Callionymidae. Zoonetics, Australia. 304-622 p.
[5] https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=2936
[6] Unusual record of the Indo-Pacific pomacentrid Neopomacentrus cyanomos (Bleeker, 1856) on coral reefs of the Gulf of Mexico http://dx.doi.org/10.3391/bir.2014.3.1.09



Orange Cup Coral
Tubastraea coccinea


Photo by Luciano Zanellato (Wiki Commons [1])

Species Description:
The Orange Cup Coral is native to most of the tropical Indo-Pacific [2]. The tentacles are typically bright orange to yellow and the tube structure is usually deep red to orange. This species inhabits dock pilings, buoys and the undersides of large rocks, to a depth of 130 feet. Specimen in shallow, high-energy water have smaller tighter grouped corallites [3].

Details on Non-Native Species:
Orange Cup Coral has invaded the Gulf of Mexico in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico, Flower Garden Banks. Orange Cup Coral were first reported in the Gulf of Mexico in 2004. It is unsure how they were introduced but it is likely they are in competition for substrate space with native benthic species [4].

What You Can Do:
When you are diving, snorkeling or in the water keep an eye out for this coral. If Orange Cup Coral is seen, please log information such as location coordinates, depth, date, and any pictures (if possible) and send them to Marine Resources Coordinator, Kristin Erickson at kristin.erickson@mymanatee.org

[1] Image is credited to Luciano Zanellato [Wiki Commons]
[2] Cairns S (2000) A revision of the shallow-water azooxanthellate Scleractinia of the Western Atlantic. Stud Nat Hist Carib 75:1–240
[3] Interactive Guide to Caribbean Diving. M. De Kluijver, G. Gijswijt, R. de Leon & I. da Cunda. http://species-identification.org/species.php?species_group=caribbean_diving_guide&id=337
[4] Fenner D (2004) Orange Cup Coral Tubastraea coccinea invades Florida and the Flower Garden Banks, Northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Coral Reefs vol. 23.



Panther Grouper
Chromileptes altivelis

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8e/Cromileptes_altivelis_%28Day%29.png/512px-Cromileptes_altivelis_%28Day%29.png
Photo by George Henry Ford (Wiki Commons Public domain[1])

Species Description:
This species is commonly known as Panther Grouper, Barrimundi cod, Humpback cod or humpback grouper. Native to parts of the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, this species has been occasionally seen along the coast of Florida since at least 1984. The Panther Grouper can be identified by the unique head and body profile, dark well-defined body spots over a light background and rounded pectoral and caudal fins.[1] The Panther Grouper can be relatively large in size at around 27.5 inches and with specimens caught weighing up to 15 pounds.

Details on Non-Native Species:
While native to the Indo-Pacific region, this species has been documented at locations across Southeast and Southwest Florida from Cocoa Beach to Broward County and in Tampa Bay off the Gulf Coast. The Panther Grouper has become endangered in its native habitat due to reef degradation, commercial harvesting, and aquarium industry.[2] The introduction of the Panther Grouper to Florida is probably due to its use and release in the aquarium industry. There is limited research on the impact of this species in its non-native range but the species is carnivorous and is believed to have a diet of 80% fish and around 20% crustaceans.

What You Can Do:
Should you see this species off of Manatee County please record coordinates, depth, and description of habitat and share this information and any photos of the individual with Marine Resources Coordinator, Kristin Erickson at kristin.erickson@mymanatee.org

[1] Field Guide to the Nonindigenous Marine Fishes of Florida https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5041/c5171a75465e6cb64797ffdc4df581b0d015.pdf
[2] USGS - Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Fact Sheet https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=966

CONTACT US +

  • Artificial Reef Coordinator
  • (941) 748-4501 ext. 6011
  • Email Us