An artificial reef is a manmade, underwater structure that has many characteristics of a natural reef, in order to provide a living marine habitat. The Volusia County Artificial Reef program started in the late-1970s, with a report that recommended the establishment of 4 one-square-mile sites for this purpose. The first reef was created in 1980, with the sinking of a WW II Liberty ship, the USS Mindanao.

Volusia County, however, has but one of a series of artificial reefs in Florida. A statewide artificial reef program was created by the Florida legislature in 1982, originally under the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In 1999, DEP transferred control of the reef program to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Division of Marine Fisheries Management. Today, 34 of Florida's 35 coastal counties -- accounting for 1,200 miles fronting the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean -- hold more than 300 artificial reef permits. More than 2,750 public artificial reefs have been placed in state and federal waters off of these counties, some dating back to the 1940s. About half of the sites are in state waters (up to 3 miles offshore) and about half are in federal waters (beyond 3 miles offshore). The state of Florida has one of the most active artificial reef programs among the 14 Gulf and Atlantic coastal states in the U.S.

Artificial reefs are not unique to Florida or the U.S., either. Reefs have been constructed around the world, generally with one or more of the following objectives:

  1. Enhance private recreational and charter fishing and SCUBA diving opportunities
  2. Provide a socio-economic benefit to local coastal communities
  3. Increase reef fish habitat
  4. Reduce conflicts between fishing, boating, diving and recreational users
  5. Facilitate reef-related research
  6. Create mitigation or restoration reefs replacing hard bottom habitat
  7. Repair reef system damage

Another imperative, of course, is to accomplish these objectives while doing no harm to fishery resources, Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), or human health.

There are many ways with which to build artificial reefs, and reef design and construction are largely dependent upon the purpose of the particular reef being deployed and the material that is available. The reefs in Volusia County are largely designed for the purpose of increasing fish habitat and providing new economic opportunities for fishing and diving. The reefs in Volusia County are largely constructed from ships deliberately sunk for this purpose, clean culverts and other concrete structures left over from county and other construction projects, and other miscellaneous materials.

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