Building Fish Habitats


Building Fish Habitats

Concrete ties at the site of the reef. (Courtesy Friends of the RGV Reef)
Concrete ties at the site of the reef. (Courtesy)

For the past five years, the local non-profit Friends of the RGV Reef has been working to restore and build up the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. They wanted to ensure that there was a habitat to create a thriving population of fish in the area.

Due to the efforts, Friends of RGV Reef was named a 2019 Conservation Wrangler by the Texan by Nature conservation. The honor acknowledges their work in creating a “valuable” habitat for fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

The RGV Reef is about a quarter of the way complete. According to marine biologists, it is already teeming with both juvenile red snapper and schools of bait fish.

So says Gary Glick, president of the nonprofit group Friends of RGV Reef, formed in 2015. The group’s goal is to create a 1,650-acre artificial reef off the coast of South Padre Island to substantially boost the local population of red snapper and other game fish.

The site sits eight nautical miles off the coast and 14 nautical miles north of the Brazos Santiago Pass jetties. To date, the project has sunk two boats (a shrimp trawler and a tugboat) and roughly 4,000 tons of low-, medium- and high-relief material. That material includes concrete pyramids, rip-rap and box culverts weighing 26,000 pounds a piece. There are also 20 truckloads of concrete roof tiles.

Concrete ties wait at the Port of Brownsville for shipping out to reef site. (VBR)
Concrete ties wait at the Port of Brownsville for shipping out to reef site. (VBR)

According to scientists studying the project, in two years, the amount of reef already deployed will have added 60,000 to 240,000 adult red snapper to the waters off South Padre Island, Glick said.

“We need to do this four or five more times and we will then have something that will begin to approach what they’ve done in Alabama, which throws off $50 million to $60 million of economic impact every year,” he said.

Glick is referring to Alabama’s artificial reef project, which began in the mid-1980s. With less than four percent of the Gulf coastline, that state went from no red snapper landings to hauling in 35 to 40 percent of the Gulf snapper catch each year. It’s an enormous economic benefit, he said.

Alabama’s reef is quite a bit bigger than what’s planned for RGV Reef though it’s all high-relief, meant to attract mature red snapper from neighboring waters, Glick said. RGV Reef’s combination of relief protects snapper from predators from the juvenile stage through adulthood, he said.

“We’re a nursery reef,” Glick said. “You can grow many times more snapper than you can attract. We can have that big economic impact with less area. Instead of trying to attract other people’s fish we’re going to grow our own.”

See more on this story in the Nov. 7 e-brief. Subscribe at