Artificial Reefs in Texas

Alec Robbins
Artificial Reefs in Texas
Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the ocean. They occupy less than 0.1% of the ocean floor, but provide a habitat for 25% of all marine species. Being such productive habitats, they are great spots for activities such as fishing and diving.

As a Texan, it is not a normal occurrence to visit a coral reef in the Gulf of Mexico. Coral reefs in Texas are patchy, and most of them are more than one hundred miles from the nearest port. Coral reefs must have steady, warm water temperatures and shallow water depths with consistent high levels of water clarity for high light penetration. The variable water temperatures and murky waters of the Gulf Coast from strong sediment-carrying currents make it much harder for coral reefs to survive.

An alternative to visiting a coral reef in the Gulf is visiting one of the artificial reefs in Texas waters. Influenced by petroleum platforms that oil rig workers and saltwater anglers have been using for years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department-Coastal Fisheries Division created the Artificial Reef Program in 1990 to promote, develop, maintain, monitor and enhance the artificial reef potential of Texas offshore waters.

Texas has 67 artificial reef sites in the Gulf of Mexico, ranging from 5 to over 100 miles from shore. These reefs make up over 3,400 acres of habitat for fauna. The Artificial Reef Program relies on three subprograms using many types of materials to create reefs: decommissioned oil rigs in the Rigs-to-Reefs Program; concrete, heavy gauge steel, and predesigned materials for the Nearshore Reefing Program; and marine vessels for the Ships-to-Reefs Program.  All materials must be free of contaminants and meet all state and federal guidelines for environmental safety. Petroleum companies that donate rigs to the program benefit from such donations by saving in the cost of moving and dismantling rigs that are no longer in use.

Artificial reefs are beneficial to fishermen because they can provide a productive fishing area that is close to shore and easy to find. Fishermen save money that would otherwise be spent on fuel to boat from site to site, or farther offshore to other waters. Reefs are productive because they increase the foraging habitat for fish, increase the nesting habitat for adult fish, and increase the resting habitat/refuge areas from predators.

As a diver in Texas, your options are few: go to a freshwater pond or lake, an artificial reef, or plan a trip outside of the state or country.  Artificial reefs are beneficial to divers because they provide a place where divers can go and see a multitude of fishes without having to go to another state or country. Texas divers can take multiple trips to artificial reefs instead of taking only one trip to an exotic location. This can be especially important to underwater photographers as it increases their likelihood of taking the perfect impression of that spectacular image they are after, instead of only having a limited number of opportunities to get the job done.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Artificial Reef Program is committed to conserving and enhancing the marine environment for fishermen and divers along the entire coast. Below are useful links for interested fishermen and divers:

TPWD’s artificial reef website:

A map of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico:

TPWD artificial reefs on Facebook