OCEAN CITY — While fishing off the resort coast has been relatively dormant over the last few weeks, there has been no shortage of artificial reef building activity this winter as the Ocean City Reef Foundation continues one of its most prolific periods in its nearly two decades.
For the last 17 years, the Ocean City Reef Foundation has been creating a vast network of artificial reefs off the coast of the resort, creating essential habitat for many species critical to the recreational and commercial fishing industries. Over the last year or so, the artificial reef program has been enjoying one of its most prolific times in recent memory with tons of material going down on the designated sites, which range from as close as one mile off the coast to as far away as 20 miles.
The renewed effort continued last week with another major contribution of concrete reef blocks dropped off at various sites. A hearty group of volunteers endured the cold early last Sunday morning to take the latest batch of concrete reef blocks out to the designated sites off the coast. Another boatload of concrete pipe was also unloaded last Sunday by Reef Foundation volunteers.
During the last 17 years, the Ocean City Reef Foundation has submerged tons of material, from old boats to retired military equipment to discarded construction materials, to create a vast artificial reef network off the coast. The artificial reefs have enhanced habitat for fish and other sea creatures up and down the food chain.
Ocean City Reef Foundation President Captain Monty Hawkins said this week the effort is an attempt to restore habitat loss that has resulted in waning fish numbers.
“If habitat loss could even theoretically be an insurmountable burden on the restoration of a reef species, then it must also be true that habitat creation would aid in their restoration,” he said.
The Reef Foundation has been enjoying one of its most prolific times in memory recently with several new reefs sprouting up off the coast. Many are named in honor of local fishing icons, including the “Ake Reef” and the “Jimmy Jackson Reef” for example, but new sites are being added all the time. In late December, the foundation began planning for a new “Sue Foster Reef” in honor of the Ocean City fishing community icon who lost her battle with cancer. Another reef honoring long-time Captain Bob Gower is also in the works.
“We’re working on all of this,” said Hawkins. “We’re working on Sue Foster’s Reef, we’re working on Bob Gower’s Reef and we’re working on Brian Sauerzopf’s. We’re working on leaving our reef fisheries a darn sight better than we found them.”
Reef Foundation volunteers are always scouring the region for potential contributions to the growing artificial reef system off the resort’s coast. The potential donations are carefully viewed and scoured of any potentially harmful materials before being sunk of the coast. With donations pouring in and a little help with funding from the state, the non-profit Reef Foundation has big plans in the coming year to expand the existing reefs and begin new ones.
“Owing to so many generous donors and a $50,000 state grant, I believe the Reef Foundation will be able to site around 80 truckloads of material,” said Hawkins. “Barring a Class 6 hurricane, most of it should still be producing fish in 500 years.”