Artificial Reefs Gain Popularity

Sea life love them almost as much as divers do, and their popularity is growing exponentially.

Artificial reefs are becoming more widely accepted as environmentally friendly havens for scuba divers, and the movement just received a major shot in the arm with the recent establishment of the second largest artificial reef in Key West, FL, according to one expert.

“Artificial reefs for recreational purposes are a complete win-win for divers, sea life and the environment,” said Charlie Hudson, author of the book Islands in the Sand: An Introduction to Artificial Reefs in the USA from ( ). “With the sinking of the 521-foot-long General Hoyt S Vandenberg, intentionally sunk in 137 feet of water some seven miles south of Key West, enthusiasts of artificial reefs have something more to be excited about.”

Located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the 65-year-old vessel is now the world’s second-largest artificial reef. It’s part of the “Florida Keys Shipwreck Trek” which consists of several ships intentionally sunk in an area stretching from Key Largo to Key West.
Hudson, who has studied the history of planned artificial reefs back to their beginnings in the 1800s, believes that the future of artificial reefs is brighter than it’s ever been.

“Artificial reefs have long since transcended the days of the many 'accidental’ ones created by shipwrecks,” Hudson said. “Many reefs are built by deploying existing materials in order to create a reef. This can be done by sinking oil rigs (through the Rigs-to-Reefs program), scuttling ships, or by deploying rubble, or construction debris. Other artificial reefs are purpose built (e.g. the ReefballsTM) from concrete or other approved materials. Regardless of construction method, artificial reefs are generally designed to provide hard surfaces to which algae and invertebrates such as barnacles, corals, and oysters attach; the accumulation of attached marine life in turn provides intricate structure and food for assemblages of fish.”

Hudson believes that artificial reefs also help preserve living reefs that have been damaged over the years by divers.

“Natural reefs taking hundreds of years to form and even a little incidental damage by visitors can take hundreds of years to heal,” she said. “Artificial reefs help protect natural ones by providing interesting scenery for divers and a solid structure for algae to form, providing food and an eco-system for sea life.”

For practical purposes, artificial reef projects began in the 1950s and gained attention in the 1980s, according to Hudson. Artificial reef projects can be as complex and expensive as sinking a former aircraft carrier or something like a ReefballTM or other special structure done by a small group in a matter of a weekend.

“Recreational artificial reefs can be properly planned and sustained for public enjoyment and economic benefits with no environmental danger,” Hudson added. “More than that, people at literally every age and literally every part of the country can participate in artificial reef projects. It’s one of the oldest 'green’ causes around, and it makes it possible for every to not only pitch in, but also to enjoy.”

About Charlie Hudson

Charlotte “Charlie” Kimball Hudson, born in Pine Bluff, Ark., and raised in Louisiana, is a 22-year career military veteran and wife, freelance writer and author. During her extensive military career Hudson was deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and to Haiti in support of Operation Uphold Democracy. She retired from the Army in 1995 as a lieutenant colonel. She and her husband, Hugh Hudson, recently moved to South Florida where they can enjoy their love of scuba diving.

To interview Charlie Hudson, or request a review copy of “Islands in the Sand: An Introduction to Artificial Reefs in the USA”contact Rachel Friedman at (727) 443-7115 ext. 206 or email Please include your name, publication, and mailing address with your request.