Artificial reefs – the way of the future?

A growing number of proposed artificial reef installations around Australia may help ensure the future of saltwater recreational fishing against expanding marine park boundaries.

A commercial fishing vessel built in the US in the 1960s will be sunk mid March in south-east Queensland’s Moreton Bay as part of an ongoing artificial reef program within the Moreton Bay Marine Park. The 24m, 96-tonne Tiwi Pearl will form a major extension to the Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef, east of St Helena Island.

Queensland Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones said instead of catching fish, the ship’s shell will soon be attracting them.

“This is an old girl of the sea who will continue to help fishermen in retirement,” Jones said.

The extension to Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef is the first of six artificial reef projects worth $2 million aimed to provide more recreational fishing opportunities for anglers displaced by the green (no fishing) zones in the Moreton Bay Marine Park. Diving will not be permitted on the reef.

The Tiwi Pearl spent time working in the Torres Strait pearl fishery before being converted and used in the long line fishery out of Mooloolaba. The vessel caught fire last June and was written off. The main engine, generators, hydraulic equipment and refrigeration have all been stripped from the hull to make it fit for sinking.

The Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef was established in 1975 and since that time has seen the addition of 17,000 tyres and 200 shopping trolleys – the sinking of the Tiwi Pearl will more than triple the reef’s size.

Sanctioned artificial reef programs have also been undertaken in most states around Australia, although numbers of private “illegal” reefs have been created by anglers for many years. Industry & Investment NSW currently has a number of pilot artificial reef installations in the state located at Lake Macquarie, Botany Bay, Lake Conjola, Merimbula Lake and St Georges Basin. These installations occur in both recreational fishing havens (Lake Macquarie, Botany Bay and St Georges Basin) and waterways still open to commercial fishing.

The Lake Macquarie, Botany Bay and St Georges Basin artificial reefs have been constructed using existing “reef ball” technology – individual modules cast from a single mould and supplied by the Reef Ball Development Group and made from a special mix of concrete that enhances marine growth while withstanding saltwater corrosion.

I & I NSW Program Coordinator Marcus Gregson told Fisho that the state’s pilot reef installations await expansion in the future, pending final approval – he is hopeful of reef expansion works to be underway by year’s end. 

Gregson says NSW fishos have welcomed the artificial reefs, as too it seems have some sportfish species. Jewfish are regularly calling St Georges basin reefs home and “strange fish such as amberjacks” have been appearing at a reef in Lake Macquarie – an installation Gregson expects will expand in size from 180 reef balls to 600.   

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A reef ball situated in Lake Macquarie NSW. Pic: I&I NSW.

South Australia lays claim to the largest number of officially endorsed artificial reefs in Australia and a history of reef installations dating back to the 1970s. Artificial reefs were installed adjacent to metropolitan areas to improve recreational fishing opportunities and provide economic benefits. The then Department of Fisheries embarked on that ground-breaking reef installation program.

SA’s artificial reefs were constructed with tetrahedron shaped tyre modules and redundant government owned barges and dredges. These were sunk at various sites in upper Spencer Gulf and adjacent to the Adelaide metropolitan coastline. Many “illegal” reefs were also created using old fridges, car bodies and so on by both commercial and recreational fishos targeting SA’s big snapper.

Since 1993, PIRSA Fisheries has taken a conservative approach and discouraged the construction of any additional artificial reefs in SA waters. In fact, DIY artificial reefs are frowned on by fisheries authorities in all states and territories.

Victoria’s Department of Primary Industry currently manages an experimental trial reef program underway in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay – in three locations within the port.

In the Northern Territory artificial reefs are nothing new with several having been installed over the years by anglers, divers and the Northern Territory Government. Locations for artificial reefs in the Northern Territory can be found at the NT Government’s website at:

 The Tiwi Pearl will be sunk in Moreton Bay next month, depending on suitable tidal conditions. The exact co-ordinates of the wreck’s locations will be placed on DERM’s website The wreck should attract snapper, mackerel, jewies, cod and baitfish.

Sites have also been chosen for three more of the six reefs planned for Moreton Bay – Wild Banks, east of Bribie Island, a site north of Moreton Island and one off South Stradbroke Island. The depositing of materials at these sites will begin this year.

Check out Fisho editor Jim Harnwell’s editorial in the May issue for more on how artificial reefs may be the answer to reducing the impact of no-fishing zones on our sport.

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