Slide Artificial Reef

Park East Snorkel Reef © Escambia County Marine Resources

ARTIFICIAL REEFS

The waters surrounding Pensacola Beach have some of the most diverse and plentiful artificial reefs you will find anywhere. Unlike the shipwrecks that are part of the area’s rich history, vessels that are deployed as artificial reefs are planned and permitted. These steel structures become part of the marine ecosystem providing habitat for sea creatures and recreational opportunities for visitors and locals. Five of the 12 ships that are part of the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail are in our local waters, including the USS Oriskany, a decommissioned aircraft carrier – the largest vessel serving as a reef in the world.

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In addition to steel vessels, reefs can be constructed from other long lasting materials such as prefabricated concrete reef modules and recycled bridge rubble. There is a science to designing an artificial reef with consideration given to the factors such as the nature of the bottom, the depth of the water and the distance from shore and shipping lanes. Snorkeling reefs are typically built of prefabricated modules and located with access from shore in relatively shallow water. Escambia County has made use of bridge demolitions to establish artificial reefs with great success and at depths suitable for scuba diving and fishing. The Racine Reef, for example, is made up of 8,000 tons of bridge rubble and teeming with sea life.

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The most ambitious undertaking is the Escambia Southeast Artificial Reef Site that is recycling about 75,000 tons of concrete from the old Pensacola Bay Bridge into an ecosystem sized reef nearly nine square miles in size.  Each deployment is placed in a specific location that makes up four large reefs. The old “Three Mile Bridge” reef is less than nine nautical miles from shore, making it more accessible to smaller watercraft. Escambia County has deployed more than 150 “patch reefs” around the perimeter of this permitted reef site. With all the marine organisms on the seafloor that are part of the food chain, these artificial reefs start attracting fish almost immediately.

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Red Snapper on Artificial Reef © Carol Cox

With well over 500 artificial reefs in area waters, those interested in exploring them can find depths appropriate for different levels of scuba diving as well as snorkeling. If you are looking to catch fish rather than swim with them, there are inshore, near-shore and offshore locations to try your luck.

 

Whatever your interest, there are GPS coordinates and water depths available for all these public reefs.

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Deploying Reef at Casino Beach © Escambia County Marine Resources

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