May 12 2014

South Carolina Memorial Reef

A 260 foot barge was sunk off of the lowcountry’s coast on Sunday in an effort to provide an artificial habitat for demersal, or bottom feeding, fish in a protected Marine Protected Area zone. The project is known as the South Carolina Memorial Reef. Organizers plan to sink two barges that have been specifically built to attract fish into the protected environment in order to increase and preserve their populations.

The Memorial Reef is part of a larger initiative called Charleston Deep Reef and is located in a four by six mile area off the shores of Charleston. The zone is the first artificial reef that qualifies as an MPA with fisherman able to attain Type II MPA licenses. A Type II license allows anglers to fish for pelagic fish, such as Bluefin tuna or marlin, while protecting the bottom feeders. Having these structures in place allows for fishermen to still work the area but also cultivates the oceanic ecosystem.

The custom built barge includes 40 foot tall steel truck chassis, a crane, and steel trucking containers. They were welded together in a triangular fashion to add height as well as depth to the structure. Many crosses, made of steel I beams, were attached as a memorial to local fisherman who were lost. The base of the barge itself is over 50 wide and over 20 feet high. In its entirety, the formation hits at least 10 stories tall.

The inspiration for going through these lengths to install such a huge initiative began when two popular locals from this tight knit fishing community met their unexpected demise. In 2008, Tony Smoak, captain of the Fish Wrapper, passed away when he was just 43. Robbie Johnson, principle of The Sea Fix Charters, was suffering from cancer when he passed at the age of 49 a short time later.   A group organized this memorial in support of them and their great love of sport fishing. After beginning talks with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the organization was able to collect $500,000 in donations for construction of the barges.

Being an experimental reef, government agencies are tuned in to see the results. Fish are expected to inhabit the formation in approximately three to six months. A crew has been coordinated to take cameras and sonars into the ocean depths this summer to collect information on the progress of the Memorial Reef. If things go as planned, the project will forever offer peaceful development for a wide variety of fish as well as a moment of silence to those lost to the fishing world.

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Robert Hart Author

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