Post and Courier

Memorial Reef Project Enters Next Phase

Reach Matt Winter, Tideline Magazine editor, at 843-937-5568 or matt@tidelinemagazine.com

For more than five years, a group of local anglers and their families have been investing their time, money and reputations to get a special project off the ground … and eventually under 350 feet of water.

Their aim? To fund, plan and build an artificial reef more than 50 miles off our coast. The Charleston Memorial Reef would be the deepest of its kind off the East Coast, and the first ever established in a Marine Protected Area (MPA). Bottom fishing is prohibited in MPAs, but trolling for pelagic game fish species such as billfish and dolphin would be allowed.

The deep-water reef also would serve as a place where loved ones could scatter the ashes of anglers who wished to be buried at sea.

To date, the grass roots group has raised just under $200,000, mostly through local fundraisers, auctions and donations. Since the reef location is so deep, the group had hoped to eventually raise enough money to secure, clean, transport and sink a sizeable ship.

Such operations can cost millions of dollars, however, and high prices for scrap steel and the high cost of environmental cleanup has largely ended the practice of using enormous old warships for reefs.

Our local reef group has a new plan: If you can’t find a big ship with tall profile, you can build something that will accomplish the same goal when sunk offshore.

The group now plans to purchase two massive barges and a crane from Stevens Towing, a freight company based in Yonges Island that has worked on a number of previous reef projects.

They plan to weld the upright crane and a variety of other steel structures to the 260-feet-long, 52-feet-wide barges, tow them out to sea and sink them at the designated reef site. If all goes according to plan, the outfitted barges could be sunk sometime next summer.

Members of the reef group, led by local offshore angler Stevie Leasure, met Friday afternoon in West Ashley to review the project and plan the steps needed to bring it home. They discussed possible superstructure designs and sinking procedures with representatives of Stevens Towing and Bob Martore, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ Marine Artificial Reef Program coordinator.

Depending on the final design and how the barges actually sink and settle on the ocean floor, the reef could rise from a few dozen feet to 120 feet or more.

“As long as there’s something there that’s going to deflect the current, you’ll attract the pelagics,” Martore said. “If you could get 60 to 70 feet (of vertical reef structure), I think that would be just fine.”

The group has secured donations of shipping containers, tractor trailer chassis and other steel structures that could be welded onto the 600-ton barges to boost the size of the fish-attracting reef. They’re also studying which other steel structures could be secured to the barges, from giant silos to old electrical transmission towers or forest fire watch towers.

Ideal structures for inclusion in the reef would be made of steel, free of contaminants, tall, moveable, light and, hopefully, free. (Anyone willing to donate such materials could contact Buddy Aimar at 843-571-7471.)

Once assembled and sunk, such a reef could last for generations.

“Once these things actually get (marine) growth on them, the steel is almost covered up and sealed completely,” Martore said. “That stops the oxidation and makes it last a lot longer than you’d think,” perhaps 50 years or more.

The group’s next steps include securing materials, designing the structure and raising whatever funds are needed to complete the project. Then it’s on to building and preparing the mega-barges, towing them out to the reef site and carefully sending them to the bottom.

To donate to the reef effort and keep up to date on fundraising events, go to scmemorialreef.org.

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