With the sinking of the Gregory Poole, a retired 175-foot Navy minesweeper under the name USS Cruise and later a menhaden harvesting ship, DNREC has created a new artificial reef off the Delaware Coast approximately 26 miles southeast of the Indian River Inlet. The reef will enhance fisheries habitat, increase marine biodiversity and productivity and provide fishing and diving opportunities for decades.
Reef construction is especially important in the Mid-Atlantic region, where the ocean bottom is usually featureless sand or mud. Recycled materials, including concrete pipe and other concrete products, ballasted tire units, subway cars and decommissioned military vehicles and vessels, have been sunk off the Delaware coast. Using these materials saves landfill space and allows them to serve in a productive capacity for hundreds of years past their originally intended use.
Monitoring studies have shown that placement of durable, stable reef materials can result in a 400-fold increase in the amount of small sea life and fish. The materials provide refuge or shelter for small fish, and they are the prey that attracts larger fish. Swift, open-ocean pelagic fish, such as tuna and mackerel, use the reef as a hunting ground to grab a quick meal.
The new reef, Del-Jersey-Land Inshore Site, lies equidistant from Cape May, N.J., Ocean City, Md. and Indian River Inlet, Del., and will be developed jointly by Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey as a regional effort. The site, with an area of about one square mile and a depth of 120-130 feet, was permitted in 2006, specifically for surplus Navy vessels.
“The Gregory Poole can now give back to the ocean,” said Jeffrey Tinsman, reef program coordinator with DNREC’s Fisheries Section. “The ship makes an ideal reef because of its voids and cavities, the perfect sanctuary for fish. Within a few weeks, blue mussels, sponges, barnacles and soft corals attach to the structure, and in about a year, the reef will be fully productive, resembling natural habitat.”
The vessel was prepared for sinking by cutting holes above the waterline and installing soft patches in these holes. After the ship arrived and anchored at the site, the soft patches were removed and pumps were used to initiate flooding of the interior spaces. Water poured into the cut holes and accelerated the sinking process. Differential global positioning system (DGPS) was used to accurately place the vessel on the site.
Delaware has 14 permitted artificial reef sites in the Delaware Bay and coastal waters, with five of these sites located in federal (ocean) waters. Development of the sites began in 1995 as part of a comprehensive fisheries management effort by the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Delaware Reef Program.
Delaware’s artificial reef program is administered by the Fisheries Section with primary funding provided through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For more information, contact Jeff Tinsman, environmental scientist at (302) 739-4782.