St. Lucie County Deep Artificial Reefs

Fish community assessment of Treasure coast artificial reef sites has had limited effort over the years. This is particularly true of deeper, shelf-edge reefs where anectodal evidence suggests that these sites provide surrogate habitat for grouper spawning aggregations. Such aggregations historically utilized high-relief natural habitat from the region (e.g., Oculina Banks) that were decimated by anthropogenic activities such as trawling. As such, these complex deepwater artificial reefs could be crucial to rebuilding stocks of many of these fisheries.

From 2017-2018 we assessed fish communities at six artificial reefs (3 vessels, 3 concrete sites) within the Fort Pierce Sportfishing Site complex. Our surveys covered both winter and summer seasons and utilized Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) and vertical longline gears. Our gears captured a multitude of managed reef fishes using these sites, as well as a suite of highly migratory pelagics. Incredible shifts in species composition were demonstrated between winter and summer seasons, presumably due to the impact of seasonal upwelling dynamics. While further long-term research is recommended, these reefs appear to be capable of supporting important reef fish species, and may even support crucial spawning activities.

Collaborators: James Oppenborn (St. Lucie County), Mr. Kerry Dillon (Sea Rover Services, Inc.)

Funding: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Artificial Reef Program