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

In 2015, the County was permitted to add reef material to Whale Key, Bayshore North and Bayshore South. This project took place in August 2016. Permits were also obtained for two new reefs (Borden Reef and Bridge Reef) in 2016. Construction began on Borden Reef in early 2017 with a second deployment in July 2018.  Bridge Reef construction will follow once the USACOE permit 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.


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.



  • 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


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


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