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What are artificial reefs

Artificial reefs are man-made underwater structures created to mimic the characteristics of natural reefs, providing habitats for marine life and promoting biodiversity in areas where natural reefs may be absent or degraded.

What are artificial reefs? 

Human activities like pollution, overfishing, and climate change have taken a toll on natural coral reefs and underwater habitats. Artificial reefs, which are made from durable materials like concrete and steel, are put in place to restore marine habitats, support fisheries, and protect coastlines.  
 
By mimicking the functions of natural reefs, artificial reefs serve as essential sanctuaries, providing shelter, food, and breeding grounds for a diverse array of marine organisms, helping to restore ecological balance in underwater ecosystems. 

How do artificial reefs work?

Artificial reefs work by placing various materials like concrete, steel, or recycled structures like old ships or vehicles on the seabed floor, where organisms can then attach themselves and form vibrant ecosystems. For example, the sinking of a decommissioned ship off the coast can create an artificial reef that attracts marine life and provides habitat for corals, fish, and other organisms. 
 
Reef structures can range from simple modules like concrete blocks or discarded materials to more complex structures like sunken ships or specially designed reef balls. Here are some examples of types of artificial reef structures and how they work:  

  • Concrete modules: Blocks or structures designed to provide attachment surfaces for marine life. CyBe Construction, for example, uses 3D concrete printing to create modules that mimic the design of natural coral structures.  
  • Sunken ships and vessels: Are retired ships intentionally sunk to provide complex habitats for marine life. The ships create intricate environments that support a diverse range of marine life, boosting fish populations and creating recreational diving opportunities.  
  • Reef balls: Specially designed types of concrete modules that promote coral attachment and marine habitat formation. These spherical modules mimic natural reef systems, providing stable surfaces for corals and other marine organisms to colonise.
  • Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs): Man-made objects, such as floating buoys, rafts or artificial logs placed in the ocean to attract fish. They provide a focal point for fish to gather, making it easier for fishermen to locate and catch them.  

What are the benefits of artificial reefs?

Artificial reefs provide a variety of advantages to marine ecosystems, coastal areas, and the environment. Here are some specific benefits of artificial reefs:  
 
Habitat restoration  
Artificial reefs compensate for lost natural habitats, offering new homes for marine life affected by human activities. 
 
Biodiversity support 
They promote diverse marine species growth, improving ecological balance and fostering a thriving underwater ecosystem. 
 
Fisheries enhancement 
By serving as breeding and feeding grounds, artificial reefs boost fish populations, sustaining fishing industries and local economies. 
 
Coastal protection  
These reefs mitigate coastal erosion, safeguarding shorelines by absorbing wave energy. 
 
Recreational opportunities 
Creating new sites for diving, snorkelling and fishing, artificial reefs attract tourists, boosting tourism and outdoor recreation industries.  
 
The Tasmanian government, recognising the benefit of artificial reefs for recreational opportunities, allocated $1.0M for artificial reef installation and an additional $450K for Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) over two years. These initiatives are geared towards enhancing recreational fishing opportunities for Tasmanian fishers. 
 
Artificial reefs also have the capacity to create new economic opportunities. For example, in South Australia, a project investigated the viability of growing juvenile Greenlip Abalone on benthic artificial reefs. Despite challenges in survival and growth rates, the research project highlights the potential for using artificial reefs in sustainable aquaculture.  

Artificial reefs, when constructed thoughtfully, can offer innovative solutions to restoring marine habitats and fisheries, protecting coastlines and providing new recreational and economic opportunities.

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