BROWNSVILLE, Texas (KVEO) – Multiple tons of decommissioned material are being unloaded off the coast of South Padre Island to create a state-of-the-art artificial reef that can potentially boost fish populations.  

Since 2014, Friends of RGV Reef, a non-profit organization dedicated to building and restoring fish habitat, has been working towards its ultimate goal of putting increasing game fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico.  

Lately, they have been executing the logistically complex and expensive task of deploying a barge stacked with millions of tons of decommissioned materials consisting of railroad tracks, concrete, and boats, and sinking it 13 miles northeast of the South Padre Island Jetties. 

The result of these efforts so far is a 1,650-acre artificial reef that accommodates every life stage for the red snapper, a highly desired game fish.  

While the red snappers are the prize, they are far from the only species that benefit from the habitat created where there once was none.  

Fish making use of the shelter provided by the RGV Reef. [Courtesy: Friends of RGV Reef]

Shrimp, sea turtles, and a variety of other fish species will be able to find refuge in the material that will eventually be covered by algae, coral, and barnacles. 

Much of the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico is a flat plain that offers no protection or food for juvenile fish. 

President of Friends of RGV Reef, Gary Glick, says the team consulted various experts and scientific papers to determine the best way to develop a world-class reef that you will not find anywhere else. 

“It is the first industrial-scale nursery reef in the world. It is on the absolute cutting edge of marine biology research,” said Glick. “We are advised by a fabulously perceptive marine biologist, Dr. Rick Kline from UTRGV, he’s the one that turned us on to the idea that we could change what we were doing, generate this nursery reef, and grow fish. 

Because of the variety of material that is used and the way it is dispersed, fish of all sizes can find both food and shelter within the reef, which something that most existing artificial reefs cannot do.

“We built it big specifically so that a little kid on a bay boat with his mom and dad who aren’t professional fishermen, who aren’t out there every day, can actually go catch a fish,” said Glick. “When a fish pulls on a string, it pulls on the kid’s heartstrings. That’s how you make conservationists.” 

While conservation for future generations is a long-term goal of the reef, the community impact may be felt already.  

People traveling to South Padre Island for the fishing opportunities would mean that more people are staying in hotels, eating and drinking at restaurants, and using a variety of different services in the area.  

The reef is estimated to contribute at least 12 million dollars of economic impact for the community according to Glick.  

Proof of the efficacy of the reef could be shown in the ongoing fishing tourism at the Island.  

“In the wintertime, all the head boats would go to Port Mansfield and the charter boats basically shut down, now they’re booked every single day that there is decent weather,” said Glick.  

Glick emphasized that this is an expensive project, and while they been getting the work done at fractions of the cost, they are relying on those who believe in the RGV Reef to continue moving it forward.  

“Friends of RGV Reef have benefited greatly from donations and community involvement. Friends of RGV Reef put down material for about a tenth of the cost of normal for-profit reefing contracts, so when somebody makes a donation to Friends of RGV Reef, they’re getting a lot for their money,” said Glick.  

To learn more and find out how to contribute, you can visit the RGV Reef website.