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Knowledge - Artificial Reefs


Abstract: A reef is a shallow strip or ridge in the sea, ocean or other water body that rises to or near the water surface. An artificial reef is a human-made underwater structure, typically built for the purpose of increasing marine life.

Technological Readiness level: 9 (Full commercial application)

Environment: Tropical shelf seas and shores, Estuaries
Keywords: reef, structure, coral, monitoring





Reefs are important influencers in water bodies. As the majority of sea beds and the ocean floor are empty and seem featureless, reefs are the exceptions. Reefs are structures containing hard substrate on which plants and coral larvea can find surfaces to root and which create shelter for fish life and crustaceans. Reef structures also affect the water movement, as they can reduce the energy level, which forms calm water and thus good shelter. It also creates extra turbulence at some spots and may increase concentrations of small animals such as plankton. Subsequently, fish and other marine animals find shelter and food on the reefs. So, a healthy reef forms a complex habitat for marine flora and fauna and usually shows great biodiversity.

Reefs also effect hydrodynamics. A reef reduces the wave energy and movement of water currents. So, the waves that crash onshore will be affected by the reef. Interrelated, a reef affects the transport of sediments between the reef and the coast. Thus, reefs are an important part of the eco-system. They are known for their biodiversity and productivity and are, as such, popular spots for divers and fishers, both recreational and commercial. However, the extensive use of reefs has had its impact on the existing natural reefs. Many of them are struggling, especially with the sea water temperature rising, which kills coral and related species.


Purpose of reefs


Artificial reefs have been created for different reasons, namely:

  • Ecological development
  • Fisheries
  • Coastal protection
  • Recreation
  • Multipurpose

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Design of Reefs

Traditionally, especially the South East Asian fishers would put bundles of brushwood, boxes of leaves or coconut palm fronds in the water to attract fish. Nowadays, artificial reefs are constructed using many different materials.

Constructing an oyster reef with oyster shells (photo Arie Kievit)

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Example cases


On this page four example cases are discussed:

  1. Narrowneck surfing reef (geotextile)
  2. Spiegel Grove (ship wreck)

  3. Artificial reefs Dubai
  4. Artificial reefs Noordzee

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Lessons Learned

The concept of an artificial reef has been used by humans for many centuries. Therefore, there are many different types and methods. It is stated that 'when properly designed, located and constructed with an adequate quantity of stable and durable substrate, man-made reefs can be equally as productive in theory as naturally occurring hard- bottom habitats, limited only by the life-span of the materials utilized.' Many materials do exist that are effective, durable and rather inexpensive.

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