As soon as this coming spring, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management could oversee the construction and deployment of three artificial reefs in Narragansett Bay.
The reefs will be used as a scientific study – to evaluate the benefits of the new habitat on juvenile fish, and to try and measure if the reefs increase fish populations.
The project, discussed Oct. 7 at a Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council public hearing, is still in the early phases and the public will have more chances to weigh in. Yet to be decided is where to put the reefs. Once that is nailed down, the permitting process with the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coastal Resource Management Council will begin.
The DEM, which was awarded a $536,500 federal sport-fish restoration grant to make the work possible, has brought on the Rhode Island Nature Conservancy as a subcontractor. The Nature Conservancy is not only helping with the fieldwork and science of the project, they are responsible for raising the 25 percent local match of the federal grant. The total value of the overall project is $750,000.
“This is the first of its kind for Rhode Island,” said John Torgan, director of oceans and coastal conservation for the Rhode Island Nature Conservancy. “It’ll be the first artificial reef of this scale for our state. We’re pretty excited about it.”
The study wants to imitate as closely as possible a Rhode Island marine-boulder field. A barge will set with a crane between 800 to 1,200 cement structures that look like boulders. They are called modules. The modules will be full of holes and the center will be hollow. This will give marine animals plenty of places to hide. They will be anywhere from 2-feet to 4-feet high. Each module will be set on the bottom, one right next to the other, in 30 feet to 50 feet of water. Each reef site will be one-quarter acre in size and contain approximately 400 individual modules.