Artificial Reefs of South Carolina
Downloadable resources listed below are in the Adobe PDF format.
Each of the linked reef documents includes a description of the site, average water depth, the name(s) of the reef(s), structure(s) description, and the structure's latitude and longitude coordinates. There is also a rough plotted map with each of the reef's structures labeled by number and location.
North Coast - includes coastal areas of Cherry Grove Beach, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, and Georgetown
Central Coast - includes coastal areas of Charleston, Folly Beach, Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island, and Edisto Island
South Coast - includes coastal areas of Hunting Island, Fripp Island, Hilton Head Island, and Daufuskie Island
South Carolina’s Marine Artificial Reef Program, managed by the Marine Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), continues to grow and prosper throughout the estuarine and offshore waters of our state. With more productive habitat created each year, recreational anglers and divers are able to continue to enjoy these activities while the resources themselves, marine finfish, are able to find new areas in which to live and spawn generation after generation. South Carolina artificial reef sites are constructed from a variety of materials including specially designed concrete and steel structures, ships and tugboats, barges, even army tanks and subway cars. When durable materials such as these are placed in the marine environment their surfaces are rapidly colonized, and eventually completely covered, by a wide variety of sessile organisms including algae, barnacles, corals, sponges, hydroids, bryozoans and marine worms. These organisms become the foundation of the reef community and the base of the food web which is critical to later fishing success.
Other marine animals such as crabs, shrimp, starfish, sea urchins, amphipods and mollusks, as well as thousands of juvenile fish, are attracted to the structure for shelter and food. Large fish of interest to recreational anglers are soon recruited to the reef in numbers usually equal to or exceeding those found on naturally occurring “live bottom” areas. These fish are attracted to the reef for a number of reasons including shelter, food, spawning and the presence of a distinct physical orientation point in the otherwise flat, featureless environment. Many adult fish of interest to anglers occur on the reefs year round, while others are only seasonal residents or short-term visitors. Although the species present on the reef sites may vary from season to season, there is almost always something to catch any season of the year.
Creation of artificial reefs off South Carolina is especially important to the development of our marine fisheries resources because of the relative lack of naturally occurring hard-bottom areas along our coast. Off of South Carolina the majority of the continental shelf is covered with sand several feet deep while only about 10 percent of the bottom has the appropriate geological makeup to allow for the formation of a reef community. This results in limited opportunities for anglers and divers and leads to heavy utilization of some of the more well known hardbottom areas along the coast. The creation of artificial reefs reduces pressure on these areas allowing resources to recover and thrive while giving recreational sportsmen and women a wider range of areas to make use of. This, in turn, also creates a positive economic impact on coastal communities across the state as bait and tackle shops and dive shops cater to the many people utilizing the new reef areas.
A South Carolina Saltwater Recreational Fishing License is required for most individuals fishing on the State’s marine artificial reefs other than those reefs adjacent to fishing piers. In addition, most of South Carolina’s offshore artificial reefs are protected by federal regulations as Special Management Zones (SMZ’s) which limits fishing gear to hand-held hook-and-line gear or spearfishing gear without powerheads.
Despite their apparent degree of productivity, artificial reefs do not represent a limitless resource that can be exploited at ever-increasing rates without severe consequences. Most of these reef sites are relatively small and support a finite number of fish that can be harvested during any given season. They should be treated like any other natural resource, with common sense and a desire to conserve them for the future.
Many artificial reefs are constructed with the cooperation of organizations such as sportfishing and diving clubs, conservation organizations, other government agencies, or even private individuals.
Some agencies, like the Coastal Conservation Association and the South Carolina Army National Guard, have provided materials and services year after year facilitating numerous artificial reef construction activities all along the South Carolina coast. Individuals or organizations wishing to assist in supporting the development of artificial reefs off South Carolina’s coast should contact the Office of Fisheries Management at (843)953-6368.
Ryan Yaden, Program Coordinator
The Artificial Reefs of South Carolina information above is also available as a downloadable PDF document.