04/24/09 — New 30-acre, man-made reef is under way

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New 30-acre, man-made reef is under way

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on April 24, 2009 1:46 PM

The North Carolina coast is getting a new attraction that most people will never see.

Off the coast of Englehard, 30 acres of ocean floor is being prepared for a man-made reef that will upgrade shellfish habitat and in turn supplement game fish populations.

The N.C. Department of Marine Fisheries has recently taken the next step in its oyster shell redistribution program and has laid out a tract of 7.5 acres that will be developed during the summer months as part of the 30-acre grid along Gibbs Shoal.

The project is being funded by a $445,000 grant that has been provided by the Coastal Recreational Fishing License revenue.

"The state invests money into the reef sanctuary program because research shows that oysters grow larger in the reef environment," said Stopher Slade, a biologist for the department. "Oysters are also more likely to successfully reproduce and produce healthier spat in the reefs."

Upon completion, the reef will be comprised of 240 limestone-based mounds, each standing five to nine feet tall and 15 feet in diameter. The mounds will be spaced approximately 75 feet apart.

Aside from the obvious benefit to the oyster population, anglers looking for popular game fish will have a new place to hook their prized prey. State regulations will prohibit the use of any bottom-disturbing gear, but sportfishermen will be allowed to cover the area with hook-and-line rigs.

Because they serve as habitat for several small species of finfish and shellfish, the reefs often attract larger game species. The sea floor mounds also act as a water purifier which allows for diverse plant life and improved water quality.

Fishermen and boaters will be able to enjoy at least six feet of passable water at all spots above the reef which will be marked by a set of class-four buoys.

The site for the Englehard reef was thoroughly researched by the DMF and recommended by local fishermen who were consulted on the project. The reef will be the fifth active oyster habitat opened as part of the shell recycling program.

Discarded shells used for the program are collected at 109 locations in 15 eastern North Carolina counties including Wilson, Pender, Pitt, Lenoir and Carteret.