Overview Artificial Reefs

Manatee County has been involved in reef construction since the late 1960’s and currently has 11 artificial reefs with two more soon to be constructed. 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.


Future Reef Projects

In 2015, the County was permitted to add reef material to Whale Key, Bayshore North and Bayshore South.  This project will take place in August 2016.  Permits were also obtained for two new reefs (Borden Reef and Bridge Reef) in 2016.  Construction will likely begin on Borden Reef in early 2017 with Bridge Reef construction to follow.


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.
  • Diving 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.


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



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 sidescan 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