State sinks ships in memory of former artificial reef coordinator

Monday, May 9, 2016 - 12:00am

Family, friends and co-workers cheered as the state sank two ships Saturday in memory of former Artificial Reef Coordinator Jim Francesconi.

The Tramp, a 67-foot long tugboat, went down first on AR-330, the Howard Chapin Reef.

The James J. Francesconi, a 107-foot long former U.S. Army LT tugboat, sank at 1:40 p.m.

Jim Francesconi headed the state’s Artificial Reef Program for 14 years before losing a battle with leukemia on July 18, 2014 at the age of 54. His efforts for the division resulted in hundreds of enhancements to artificial reefs from the Outer Banks to Long Bay.

The James J. Francesconi went down at 1:40 p.m. Saturday on AR-330, the Howard Chapin Reef.

Following Francesconi’s death, several diving and fishing organizations began a grass roots effort to raise money for a ship to sink in his name. They raised $33,866.97 for the cause. Another $77,790 came from the sale of SCUBA license plates and $6,997 from the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission Conservation Fund.

An artificial reef is a three dimensional structure built, with materials such as concrete pipe, ships, barges and prefabricated objects, to replicate the ecological functions of natural hard bottom habitat. This type of habitat provides food and refuge for a variety of marine life that attract small bait fishes that draw larger predatory fish.

They make great playgrounds for anglers seeking flounder, black sea bass, grouper and other reef fish, and for divers, who want to watch and photograph marine life and explore shipwrecks.

North Carolina has one of the most active artificial reef programs in the country, with 42 ocean reefs, ranging from one-half to 38 miles from shore, and 20 estuarine reefs, including 14 oyster sanctuaries.