South Texas Artificial Reef Research (STARR) Program: Fish Community Assessment and Reef Site

Principal Investigator

The Gulf of Mexico hosts commercial and recreational fishing and diving and plays an important role in local economies. It provides vital habitat for marine life of all types and links us with the ocean through an interconnected environment. How do artificial reefs enhance our marine environment and how are they best deployed?

The Fisheries and Ocean Health lab is evaluating artificial reef sites in South Texas with funding from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Artificial Reef Program. Fish community structure associated with artificial reefs will be monitored for two years. The 15 reef sites vary in depth, distance from shore, complexity of materials, and number of structures. Monitoring will utilize both diver-based surveys and ROV-based technology. Initially, the project will set out to establish baseline attributes and fish communities at each site using standard fish census methods.

In year 1, each site will be evaluated for fish species and abundance, differences between sites due to spatial location and reefed materials will be evaluated, and standard monitoring protocols will be determined using diver-based and ROV sampling. In year 2 of the study, representative sites will be evaluated more extensively, and we will begin testing hypothesis and scientific questions concerning artificial reefs in Texas. Specific questions will address vertical distribution patterns of fish at selected reef sites, seasonal patterns of species using each reef site, and how physical differences between representative sites (water depth, distance from shore, type, number of and complexity of structures) affect species abundance and richness.