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South Carolina Reef Supporters Dig Deep

Donated materials wait to become part of the reef structure.
Donated materials wait to become part of the reef structure.

The S.C. Memorial Reef has been in the planning stages since 2009, with organizers raising funds to put in place a new artificial reef starting in August at the offshore location in 350-feet of water. The premise of the Memorial Reef is to provide a protected fishing area for the loved ones of offshore enthusiasts who have passed away.

The offshore fishing community has been holding fundraisers each summer at the Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series. Each year the S.C. Memorial Reef auction coincides with the Carolina Billfish Classic at Toler’s Cover Marina near Sullivan’s Island. Gold Bug Island is the site of the event, which includes food, drinks, a band and a lively silent and live auction for the sake of bluewater conservation.

A recent $50,000 donation from the S.C. Governor’s Cup Advisory Board to the S.C. Memorial Reef led a flurry of donation activity. Offshore boat owners are stepping up like Gage Blue from Sadie Beth who donated 19 shipping containers to the reef project. The value of the containers is $16,500, but the long-term value of these as artificial reef structures on the ocean floor is immeasurable. John Hill from El Tejano contributed $10,000 towards the cost of towing the materials out to sea.

Stevens Towing is donating time to weld much of the donated structure together before towing it to sea. August offers the calmest window to undertake the project, which will include at least a day or two of towing. Items like a crane and radio tower will provide the vertical structure that is essential for the baitfish inhabiting these artificial reefs. Two 270-foot long barges will be sunk to serve as the footprint for site.

Many individuals have donated time and energy toward establishing this offshore fishing spot that will benefit generations of offshore anglers. Capt. Stevie Leasure, co-owner of the sportfisher Summer Girl, is one of those dedicated volunteers. He frequently stands in front of an audience to make a pitch for donations towards the reef, and serves as the point man for the reef.

The reef is a Type II MPA, or Marine Protected Area. The area is located more than 50 miles out from Charleston, and is a 4- by 6-mile area that has been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources now holds the reef permit. When completed, it will be the deepest reef on the Atlantic Coast.

This type of MPA is designed to create habitat on a bottom where previously there was very little. Then the regulations state that the bottom area will be off limits to fishermen. However, this type MPA does allow for offshore anglers to troll across the MPA in search of pelagic species. Potentially it’s a win for the continuing bottom fish recovery, and offers a new area of productive bluewater fishing.

Robert Martore is the SCDNR artificial reef project coordinator. He endorsed the reef in writing, calling it a one-of-a-kind project that will serve as a lasting memorial, an exciting research project for the future, and an environmental benefit.

The S.C. Memorial Reef may help reveal if deepwater artificial reefs play a role in replenishing and protecting the ocean’s fish. During final preparations, Cooper Iron Works welded special iron crosses bearing the name of loved ones to the reef materials. The cost for a cross is $200. For options about how to contribute visit www.scmemorialreef.com.

Jeff Dennis is an outdoor writer and photographer who grew up on a creek in Charleston loving the saltwater. He contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com.

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