NEW FOR MONDAY: OC Reef Foundation Aims To Bury Fish Hotels, Oyster Castles

OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Reef Foundation continues to build artificial reefs throughout Ocean City’s surrounding waters to support local fisheries and the eco system.

That effort will be seeking a funding injection on Wednesday when the foundation holds a benefit at Hall’s Restaurant.

The Ocean City Reef Foundation was established in 1997. It is dedicated to the Sustained Improvement of Recreational Fishing and Diving in Maryland’s Coastal Waters through Habitat Management, Public Education and Conservation of Natural Resources.

According to the Ocean City Reef Foundation, its initial purpose was to serve as a source of non-government funding to supplement the Maryland State Reef Program. When the state terminated its reef program in June of 1997, the town assumed responsibility for the permits needed for reef construction, under the condition that no town revenues would be spent on the program. In return the Foundation had to assume the program management and operational duties that were previously done by the state and in 2001 became certified as a nonprofit organization.

Ocean City Reef Foundation President Greg Hall presented an update of the latest initiatives in creating artificial reefs in the waters surrounding Ocean City.

“The Reef Foundation is alive and well, we exist on donations and they are trickling in from our members and by the support of our community…and our membership is as good as ever,” he said.

Large concrete pipes were donated to the foundation and are currently located at Sunset Marina. The plan is to transfer the pipes to a barge and transport them to be placed along the Mason Reef about six miles out. Within the interior of the pipes, cinder blocks are stacked to serve as a “fish hotel”.

“It becomes a nursery for the whole eco system,” City Environmental Engineer Gail Blazer said.

The foundation also received 16 palettes of “Oyster Castles”. The castles are built out of recycled clam shells and resemble cinder blocks, except are about twice the size. They are shaped like Legos to interlock with each so that they can be stacked and formed into different shapes. The castles will be taken out to wreck sites where volunteer divers will shape them into reef structures and eventually oysters and other shellfish will grow on them.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Hall said. “It is the first time we ever tried it.”

Hall pointed out the ocean floor in Maryland consists of sand and broken shells and are mostly inhabited by organisms capable of burrowing for shelter, carry their own defense, or nomadic schooling animals.

Shipwrecks support important fisheries off Maryland’s coast but decompose over time. A managed reef program provides a means for placing structured habitat at optimum locations with minimum adverse environmental and social impacts.

The Ocean City Reef Foundation has used a variety of materials as the starting point for a reef community’s off the coasts of Ocean City, including concrete rubble and damaged culvert, military tanks and combat vehicles, specially designed concrete, pre-cast reef units, former underwater communications cable, subway cars, heavily ballasted tire units, and heavy scrap steel and iron pipe and other large items.

The reefs create a home for fouling animals such as barnacles, mussels, sponges and coral and in turn host populations of fish, lobsters, crabs and shrimp that feed on the reef and are food for other critters.

“I tell you these reef sites are really building up and have had tremendous impact on the fishery,” Councilman Joe Hall said. “Every year the coastal fishing gets better with the size of the fish and the togs that are happening here. The more structure that we put out there it takes the pressure off the other structures and lets the fish thrive and rejuvenate … so there is always this nursery replenishing our supply.”

An All You Can Eat Italian Feast and Auction will be held at Hall’s Restaurant on May 16 to raise money for the Ocean City Reef Foundation.

The event will be held from 5-8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under, the proceeds from which will raise funds for the foundation. For more information about the event or to donate auction items, call 410-208-0064.