Economic Boost from Under the Sea

By:

Economic Boost from Under the Sea

UTRGV researchers are building one of the biggest artificial “low-profile” reefs in the Gulf of Mexico off the South Texas coast. (UTRGV photo by Veronica Gaona)
UTRGV researchers are building one of the biggest artificial “low-profile” reefs in the Gulf of Mexico off the South Texas coast. (UTRGV photo by Veronica Gaona)

Man-made RGV Reef impacts local environment and economy

Red snapper is one of the important commercial fish along the lower Texas Gulf Coast and researchers are building an artificial reef to help maintain and grow habitat for that popular fish and other species.

In 2015 red snapper hauls totaled more than 2.2 million pounds, according to the Texas Almanac. That catch was worth more than $9.4 million.

Researchers from UTRGV’s School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences in the College of Sciences, in collaboration with Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Texas A&M Galveston, are creating one of the biggest artificial “low-profile” reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Commonly known as the “RGV Reef,” the reef-building structures build upon limestone rubble and oyster shells as well as concrete. The reef itself is 13.9 nautical miles north of the South Padre Island jetties, and 7.4 nautical miles offshore. The reef will rest at an average depth of 64 feet.

Catheline Froehlich, a research associate at SEEMS, said the low-profile structures have high ecological importance because they are smaller and shorter than typical reef structures.

Studies conducted at UTRGV determined that juvenile fish need a habitat that is smaller, and separate from the larger reefs. This provides a safe environment from predators.

“We’re hoping to increase the number of red snapper and aid the fisheries in general,” said Froehlich, who holds a master of science in biology from UTRGV legacy institution UTB/TSC. “They have a lot of pressure right now from overfishing.”

Structures made from limestone, oyster shells and concrete are being used to build the “low profile” artificial reef. (UTRGV photo by Veronica Gaona)
Structures made from limestone, oyster shells and concrete are being used to build the “low profile” artificial reef. (UTRGV photo by Veronica Gaona)

Healthy environment is good business

Maintaining the red snapper population in the Gulf of Mexico is not only crucial to the area’s environmental balance, area leaders say, but also to the local economy: Red snapper is the area’s fourth most commercial fish, and maintaining a healthy, balanced marine environment is key.

“Within a few months, we’ve already seen a good amount of juvenile fish in the area,” Froehlich said. “It’s almost an immediate effect of having a productive reef.”

Froehlich said the reef project is part of a greater effort to enhance and rebuild marine life through the addition of artificial reefs. Ongoing efforts over the past decade include the sinking of the 473-foot Texas Clipper in 2007, as well as the sinking of two ships in November 2016.

Friends of RGV Reef, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving marine life, has been key in helping fund the reef operations. Donations from across the United States have helped with the costs of building the artificial reefs.

The research behind the operation has been funded by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Artificial Reef Program and the OneGulf Grant. OneGulf is a team made up of nine institutions united to promote collaborative research and operations dedicated to restoring and protecting the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast region.

Texas OneGulf is one of two consortia established by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to enable usage of federal funding provided through the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2010.

Author Steven Masso is a student writer with UTRGV.

Comments