Artificial Reef Program

Program Goals

On Nov. 21, 2003, the FWC adopted a state artificial reef strategic plan developed by an advisory board of interested stakeholders. The plan has six general goals:

  1. Assure that long-term social, economic and quality of life values of artificial reefs benefit the local and regional economies of Florida.
  2. Utilize artificial reefs in scientific research to obtain a mechanistic and predictive understanding of how artificial reefs function ecologically and physically across spatial and temporal scales.
  3. Use artificial reefs as a component of fisheries management.
  4. Identify, procure and maximize new and existing sources of funding for artificial reefs.
  5. Improve intergovernmental coordination and public/private cooperation in artificial reef development.
  6. Foster public and private sector marine ecosystem stewardship and accurate understanding of artificial reef issues.

Program Funding

Artificial reef development in Florida began in the late 1970's when increased numbers of state funded and sponsored projects were conducted and more dependable funding sources began to be established. However, consistent annual reef funding at the state level was unavailable until 1986. Today, approximately 70-100 public artificial reefs are constructed annually off Florida using a combination of federal, state and local government and private funds. Approximately 40-75% of the money used annually from all sources for artificial reef related development in Florida annually is administered through the FWC artificial reef program. From 1996 through 2005, the construction and monitoring project component of the state artificial reef program was level funded with $300,000 in federal aid and $300,000 in state saltwater fishing license revenues. In 2006, the state artificial reef program funding was increased by an additional $100,000 in federal aid, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for a combined total of $700,000 in federal and state funds available for artificial reef projects statewide. In 2012, the Florida artificial reef program was again legislatively appropriated $400,000 in federal aid in Sport Fish Restoration from the USFWS that was augmented with $300,000 in state saltwater license revenues from the Marine Resource Conservation Trust Fund.

The funds administered by the FWC artificial reef program are grants-in-aid pass through funding derived from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service federal aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program and state salt water fishing license revenues. The money is used to reimburse local government and nonprofit participants for funding transportation and deployment of reef material, construction of modular reef units, reef monitoring, pre-deployment site assessments and special projects, such as planning (socio-economic studies) and research. Depending on the year, approximately 70-80% of the grant project funding goes to artificial reef construction with the remainder utilized for monitoring, research or other reef planning oriented projects. The selection process for construction and monitoring projects is competitive in accordance with the criteria established under 68E-9 Florida Administrative Code.External Website

Over the last 33 years, the Florida has distributed more than $20,232,718 for artificial reef related activities. From 1979 through fiscal year 2011-2012, Florida’s artificial reef program provided at least $15,253,084 in state and federal funding to local coastal governments for public reef construction projects. Another $3,082,524 has gone toward statewide artificial reef research projects, $1,417,256 toward reef monitoring and $479,853 toward four regional reef socioeconomic studies. Research and monitoring projects have included studies on reef spacing and design, material stability, storm impacts, long-term studies of reef community succession, residency of benthic species on artificial reefs, juvenile fish recruitment, comparison of artificial reef fish communities with those on adjacent natural reefs and the impacts of directed fishing mortality on artificial reef biomass and species diversity. A 2001 special legislative appropriation of $550,000 (in addition to the 2001-02 regular $600,000 appropriation) funded a low profile unpublished patch reef project consisting of more than 500 patch reefs utilizing three different material designs. These units were deployed in large permitted areas in federal waters off Northwest Florida in the winter and spring of 2003. Some of these units continue to be used in ongoing research projects. In 2005, the program received an additional $250,000 appropriation to support monitoring of nearshore natural and artificial reefs on the East Coast using both conventional sampling and DIDSON sonar. During 2006-07, FWC received a $1,250,000 grant from the U.S. Maritime Administration to assist the city of Key West with partial financing of the preparation of the military vessel General Hoyt Vandenberg, which was placed as an artificial reef off Key West May 27, 2009. 

During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, FWC is providing $645,215 in funding for artificial reef construction projects off 10 counties as well as four monitoring projects and one ongoing research project. Participants in this fiscal year’s reef grants in aid program activities include 12 county governments, one city government, one university and one nonprofit artificial reef organization. Projects cover the following county areas: Bay, Dixie, Flagler, Duval, Martin, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Santa Rosa, St. Lucie, Taylor and Wakulla Counties. The 2012-2013 fiscal year individual projects range in cost from $26,447 to $60,000 (reef construction) and from $2,825 to $72,943 (research and monitoring). The 2012-2013 reef construction projects will include a mix of fabricated concrete modules, limestone boulders and pre-cast secondary use concrete materials.

Program Personnel

FWC artificial reef program staff are primarily federally funded, consisting of an Environmental Administrator working 3/4 time on artificial reef issues and 62% federally funded, and two Fishery Management Biologists funded 100% under a Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Grant applied for annually. FWC artificial reef program staff provides technical assistance to local coastal governments and state and federal regulatory agencies. Staff disseminates artificial reef related information to all of these entities and assists the general public by answering questions related to artificial reefs. Staff carries out a legislative requirement of maintaining a statewide public artificial reef database (available on the FWC website) and remains in contact on a national level with other coastal state artificial reef program managers.

In addition to administrative duties, staff conducts statewide compliance and performance monitoring of grant funded reef projects using SCUBA. The section’s assessment dive team conducts fish censuses, mapping, video, photography and materials evaluation. Staff may also inspect materials proposed for deployment or monitor actual deployments. Other monitoring techniques such as sidescan sonar and remotely operated underwater video have been used on a contractual basis. In the course of staff fish censuses taken statewide at depths to 140 feet, more than 220 species of fish have been identified on Florida artificial reefs. The top five fish species most likely observed by visual census using SCUBA on artificial reefs were

  1. tomtate (grunt);
  2. gag grouper;
  3. gray snapper;
  4. white grunt and,
  5. gray triggerfish.

Fish noted in the greatest densities when they occurred were

  1. scads (cigar minnows);
  2. clupeids (herrings);
  3. tomtate (grunt) and,
  4. vermilion snapper (beeliners). 

Artificial Reef Program Stakeholders

Artificial reef stakeholders in Florida include users, interested parties and those entities impacted by reef development. Stakeholders include recreational anglers and associated businesses, federal, state and local governments; tourism and economic development interests; recreational and commercial SCUBA divers; commercial hook and line and trawl fishermen; academia; volunteer reef research and monitoring groups; artificial reef module manufacturers; marine contractors; environmental organizations; and the media.


The FWC artificial reef program does not issue permits for artificial reef sites. This regulatory responsibility is carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) for proposed artificial reef areas in federal waters and by both the ACOE and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in state waters. Both of these regulatory agencies accept comments from FWC and other interested parties during the artificial reef application review process. Due to liability issues, associated with siting and placing materials on the sea floor, permits are not issued directly to private individuals or clubs for building artificial reefs. The local coastal governments who are applicants for new reef sites undergo a rigorous individual permit application process that may span a 6-12 month period. 

A review of all of Florida’s permitted artificial reef sites on record, permitted between the late 1960’s and early 2006, identified 448 unique permitted artificial reef areas, covering a total of 664.13 square nautical miles (nm2). Of the 448 sites permitted to date, approximately 300 are currently active. The average size of the 448 permit polygons is 1.48 nm2. The smallest permit polygon is 1.06 x 10-6 nm2 (48.44 feet squared), and the largest permit polygon is 98.09 square nautical miles. Ninety percent of the permit polygons fall between the sizes of 1.06 x 10-6 nm2 (48.44 ft2) and 1.69 nm2. The wide range of permit sizes is a result of eight large area artificial reef sites (LAARS) located in the Panhandle and Florida Big Bend (off Escambia, Okaloosa, Bay and Taylor counties). Each of the LAARS encompasses significantly more area (60.87 nm2) than the average of all other permitted sites in Florida (0.39 nm2). The eight LAARS account for 73% of Florida’s total permitted artificial reef area. As a result, the Gulf coast of Florida includes more total permitted area than the Atlantic coast of Florida (539.38 nm2 and 124.74 nm2, respectively).

Reef Materials Use

Allowable materials for artificial reef use are determined by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit criteria and tend to emphasize heavy, stable, durable and non-polluting materials.  These criteria are based upon requirements for the use of non-hazardous material of sufficient stability and durability to insure that the materials and their component parts remain within permitted areas and last long enough to provide the intended habitat enhancement. These criteria are based upon direction provided by the National Artificial Reef Plan, developed under the Secretary of Commerce by direction of the National Fishing Enhancement Act of 1984 and by the Environmental Protection Agency based upon federal and international law. Also, guidance is provided by the Guidelines for Marine Artificial Reef Materials, Second Edition (2004), produced by the Gulf and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissions, a copy of which can be found online at: PDF

DEP has additional specific materials limitations for artificial reef use in state waters. Under DEP state general artificial reef rules, for example, in state waters of Florida (Chapter 62-341.600 Florida Administrative Code External Website) materials are limited to clean concrete or rock; other clean, heavy gauge steel products with a thickness of 1/4 inch or greater; and prefabricated structures that are a mixture of clean concrete and heavy gauge steel. 

An assessment of material types used in 709 publicly funded Florida artificial reef deployments (all funding sources) from 1992-2012 showed that secondary use concrete materials dominate (38%) followed by concrete modules (30%), steel vessels and barges (11%), bridge materials (9%), military equipment- mainly armored combat tanks (4%), steel materials  (4%), limestone (3%) and miscellaneous materials (0.8%). 

Additional Information

For more information on Florida’s Artificial Reef Program, please contact:

Keith Mille, Environmental Administrator

Division of Marine Fisheries Management - Artificial Reef Program

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

620 S. Meridian St., MS 4B2

Tallahassee, FL  32399-1600

Phone: (850) 487-0554


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