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Placing artificial reefs off Long Island was an innovative and game changing idea that has brought a new home and place to grow for the fish in our area.
By NYDEC  |  August 5, 2019
Deploying reef material requires a multi-agency effort.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has launched the second year of the largest artificial reef expansion in New York State history, as part the State's ongoing initiative to develop a stronger, more diverse marine ecosystem and provide shelter for fish and other marine life off New York's shore. This week, the Governor had recycled materials deployed at Fire Island Reef from the Staten Island Expressway, Kew Gardens and Kosciuszco bridges, Erie Canal and the retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers steel vessel M/V HUDSON, which will create a new marine habitat. The materials for this reef expansion - as well as six more announced for this year at Atlantic Beach, McAllister Grounds, Yellowbar, Kismet, Matinecock and Twelve Mile - will be strategically placed to improve New York's diverse marine life and boost Long Island's recreational and sport fishing and diving industries.

"New York State is doing more than any state in the United States when it comes to climate change and protecting the environment," Governor Cuomo said. "Reefs are great for the environment and the economy, and the new reefs created under our comprehensive artificial reef program are already incredibly successful. We are going to continue this success by bolstering the Fire Island reef with an assortment of material, and show that New York, and Long Island in particular, can and will be the showcase to demonstrate how to build a green economy and a green environment for the rest of the nation."

As directed by Governor Cuomo in April 2018, and with unprecedented, multi-agency coordination, recycled materials from the State Department of Transportation (DOT), New York Power Authority (NYPA)/Canal Corporation and the Thruway Authority, among other partners, are being put to new use and helping to develop New York's artificial reef sites.

The 744-acre Fire Island reef, located two miles from shore with a depth of 62-73 feet, is the most recent recipient of materials that include:

From the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: The retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers steel vessel M/V HUDSON. Built in 1963, the M/V HUDSON served in many rescue efforts during its time at sea and measures nearly 53 feet in length and weighs 19 tons. Its commendable career includes responding to helicopter and aircraft crashes, collecting fisheries sampling and water quality and sediment samples to support navigation maintenance dredging work, and the recent deepening of the New York and New Jersey Harbor to 50 feet, enabling the region to continue to compete in the world of international commerce.

From DOT's Staten Island Expressway, Kew Gardens bridge in Queens and Kosciuszko bridge sections, nearly 1,000 tons of material, including: Steel bridge girders 20 to 60 feet long; Steel pipe ranging in size from 20 to 40 feet long; Steel sign structure 50 feet long; and 10 steel lifting tower pieces 10 to 15 feet long.

From NYPA/Canal Corporation: A 30 ft. tainter gate; Lift bridge sections up to 34 ft; 33 ft. miter gates; and six 20 ft. steel pontoons.

This week’s deployment adds to Governor Cuomo's Artificial Reef Initiative, in which an unprecedented effort is deploying large volumes of recycled materials that have been cleaned of contaminants from the New York State Thruway Authority (old Tappan Zee Bridge materials), NYPA/Canal Corporation (Erie Canal vessels and two turbines), DOT (steel trusses, pipes and rock) and New York City Department of Transportation (parts of the City Island Bridge) onto New York Reef sites in 2018. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) artificial reef program, which manages the state's 12 artificial reefs (two reefs in Long Island Sound, two in the Great South Bay and eight in the Atlantic Ocean) also deployed a pier, bridge support concrete and concrete barriers from the decommissioned Mill Basin Drawbridge to Hempstead reef in January and February 2019.

Materials deployed on the Fire Island Reef in 2018, included: 4,700 tons of jetty stone;

1,808 cubic yards of Tappan Zee Bridge concrete road decking, pipe piles and substructure pieces; 110'x29' steel air force flat scow; 30'x15' steel piano flat scow; and

100'x29' steel dump scow.

In 2018, materials deployed to the Hempstead, Moriches, Rockaway, Shinnecock, Smithtown and Fire Island artificial reefs under the Governor's initiative included 8,805 cubic yards of old Tappan Zee Bridge materials, 13 former Canal Corporation vessels, 4,700 tons of jetty stone, two 70-ton NYPA turbines and more than 170 tons of DOT material, including steel pipes, trusses and I-beams.

Marine biologists have documented the rapid colonization of marine life, including sponges, mussels, bryozoans, barnacles and anemones, of deployed material and reef-associated finfish, such as blackfish/tautog, black sea bass and scup/porgy, on materials deployed under the Governor's Artificial Reef Initiative in the last year. State University of Stony Brook Southampton Professor Brad Peterson is conducting underwater growth research on the newly deployed reef material on Shinnecock Reef, helping to advance the science and understanding of reefs and the benefits they provide to the ecosystem.

Monitoring surveys conducted by DEC's artificial reef program have documented an increase in angler activity on the reef sites since the Reef Initiative started in 2018. A survey completed in August 2018 documented an all-time high vessel count on the reef sites of 369 vessels in a single day, three times higher than the prior daily high vessel count. In addition, an increased number of divers have been visiting the artificial reefs exploring newly added Canal Corporation vessels and Tappan Zee Bridge materials. Local dive charters used by Long Island dive clubs have added the Tugboat Reliable and Tender 6 on Shinnecock Reef to their dive charter destination calendar.

Construction of New York's first artificial reef dates back to 1949, and this latest initiative marks the State's first coordinated effort to stimulate the full environmental and economic benefits of artificial reefs. The artificial reef expansion will increase the biodiversity of habitats for a variety of fish and crustacea, promote biodiversity and environmental sustainability and boost New York's recreational fishing, sport fishing and diving industries. Materials used for the reef expansion are being strategically placed and built out of hard, durable structures such as rock, concrete and steel pipes, and usually in the form of surplus or scrap materials that are cleaned of contaminants to mitigate potential impacts to sea life before being recycled on the reef sites. Once materials and vessels settle to the sea floor - larger fish like blackfish, black seabass, cod and summer flounder - move in to build habitats within the new structures, and encrusting organisms such as barnacles, sponges, anemones, corals and mussels cling to and cover the material. Over time, these recycled structures will create a habitat similar to a natural reef.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Governor Cuomo's innovative approach to expand New York's network of artificial reefs is a visionary plan that will create healthier, more vibrant and diverse aquatic ecosystems while bolstering the economies of New York's coastal communities. Today's addition of material to Fire Island Reef will provide new habitat for countless marine species, increase recreational opportunities for the region's sport fishing and diving industries and is the latest example of the Governor's recognition that our environment and economy are inextricably linked."

Senator Todd Kaminsky, Chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee said, "Placing artificial reefs off Long Island was an innovative and game changing idea that has brought a new home and place to grow for the fish in our area. I thank Governor Cuomo, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and my colleagues in State government for the sustained investment and expansion of these reefs."

Assembly Member Steve Englebright said, "Off Long Island, the floor of our harbor and ocean waters is made primarily of sand and other loose sediments. Under the sea, a solid surface on which a marine plant or animal can grow is at a premium. That's why creating reefs by reusing steel from old bridges and other clean decommission structures can create biodiverse marine habitats that provide high quality fishing grounds. II commend Governor Cuomo for his initiative to create new habitat for marine life through the reuse of steel and other materials."

New York's marine resources are critical to the state's economy, supporting nearly 350,000 jobs and generating billions of dollars through tourism, fishing and other industries. More than 500,000 anglers in the region will reap the benefits of this initiative, supporting the region's growing marine economy which accounts for approximately 9.7 percent of Long Island's total GDP.

Artificial reef construction is part of Governor Cuomo's NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative, an effort to improve recreational activities for in-state and out-of-state sportsmen and sportswomen and to boost tourism opportunities throughout the state. Visit DEC's website for more information about the artificial reef program.