Artificial Reefs

Tate_ArtReefArtificial reefs are man-made structures that are purposefully put in fresh water and marine habitats for a variety of reasons including to attract fish, enhance marine ecosystems, mitigate loss and/or destruction of natural reefs and for recreational diving activities.   Artificial reefs can be created from a wide spectrum of materials, such as old boats and ships, cars, old oil rig platforms, concrete and weighted wood structures, and buoys and rafts holding up tires, branches, plastic and other debris in the water column—known as Fish Aggregation Devices or FAD’s.  Sunken ships are especially interesting for recreational divers to explore and attract many pretty reef fish.  FAD’s, usually put in relatively deep water attract pelagic fish such as tuna, marlin, swordfish and dorado which are all big in the fisheries industry.  Different types of structures are implemented to suite different purposes.

Tate_SeaTiger1 Tate_SeaTIger2Artificial reefs have been important in Hawaii since as early as the 1960’s.  The Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) has been implementing and experimenting with different types of artificial reefs since 1961, and since has moved from old car bodies, to piles of old car tires, to sunken fishing boats and navy barges, and differently shaped concrete structures designed to attract specific species of fish, coral and lobster.  DAR has four large experimental artificial reef areas in the Main Hawaiian Islands, three around Oahu, and one on Maui.  Upon doing SCUBA surveys of theses artificial reefs, DAR has found them to be effective at attracting intricate marine communities.  Unfortunately DAR has had insufficient funds to continue expanding their artificial reef program since the mid 1990’s.

Tate_TankOther artificial reefs in Hawaii include numerous purposefully sunken (and a few accidental) fishing and whaling ships and old airplanes primarily implemented for recreational diving and submarine tours.  There are also a handful of amphibious tanks sunken off of Maui in the 1940’s during World War II training exercises, some of which have been mapped to critical detail by University of Hawaii Undergraduates under the supervision of the NOAA maritime archaeologist Hans Van Tilburg.  Tilburg has led University of Hawaii students on many field school expeditions on Oahu, Lanai, Maui and Hawaii to survey old shipwrecks which are considered Submerged Cultural Resources.  Not only do Submerged Cultural Resources provide important reminders of our past, but they also provide rich habitat for fish and marine ecosystems.  Whether an artificial reef is made up of a pile of concrete modules, or a culturally significant relic, it provides beneficial ecosystem services.

-by Tate Wester



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Carr, M.H. and Hixon, M.A. (1997). Artificial reefs: The importance of comparisons with natural reefs. Artificial Reef Management.  22(4): 28-33.

Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. (2014). Artificial Reefs.

Hixon, M.A. and Beets, J.P. (1989). Shelter characteristics and Caribbean fish assemblages: Experiments with artificial reefs. Bulletin of Marine Science. 44(2): 666-680.

Kanenaka, B. K. (1994). Hawaii’s artificial reef program: past, present and future. Bulletin of Marine Science55(2-3).

Seaman, W. and Sprague, L.M. (1991). Artificial habitats for marine and freshwater fisheries. Academic Press. San Diego, CA.


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