A Day Under Water with the Artificial Reef Program

It’s a warm, cloudy morning as Jordan Byrum, Artificial Reef Coordinator, launches the boat from the dock behind the Division of Marine Fisheries. The waves are a little choppy and since it is low tide, he takes it a little slow on the way to the AR-380.

AR-380 is an artificial reef in Bogue Sound at the mouth of Spooner’s Creek, about half a mile from shore in Morehead City.

Two division technicians, Brooke Wheatly and Nick Hendricks, are already at the site with the contractor. They got there early to place staging poles in the water, so the contractor would have some visual guidance as to where to place the reef balls.

As Byrum approaches, the contractor is just beginning to place the reef balls on the site. Everything seems to be going smoothly, thanks to a lot of preparation on the part of the Artificial Reef staff. A project like this inshore reef can take months of planning, between the permitting process, deciding which material to use, the bidding process for contractors and working with the contractor’s schedule, not to mention the weather, Byrum says.

The contractor is adding 200 concrete reef balls to the existing 96 reef balls previously placed on the site. “We have got these arranged in rows. We will have eight reef balls in each row, about 20 feet apart,” Byrum said. “This makes it easy for the contractor to drop the reef balls and for the fishermen to find.”

Once the reef balls have been deployed division staff will dive on the site in about a week. “We will conduct a survey using side-scan sonar, which we use to identify the specific location of materials, then digitize the data and add it to the interactive reef guide located on our website,” Byrum said. This typically takes one to two months.

Artificial reefs provide habitat for fish which contributes to healthy fish populations, and healthy fish populations provide great fishing! Once the reef balls are sitting on the bottom, they will quickly become encrusted by barnacles, sponges and shellfish which attracts small bait fish that provide food for larger fish.

The first construction of AR-380 began in mid-August 2018. It was purposely built in a location that provides easy access for small boats and kayaks, and the waters are shallow enough that people can even snorkel on this site.

It is a popular place to catch trout in the fall. “We have seen flounder, red drum, black drum and sheepshead. Divers have said they have seen a ton of stone crabs, but they can’t catch them because they burrow under the reef balls,” said Byrum. 

Click here to read more about the N.C. Artificial Reef Program.