Artificial Reef Program

Heavy equipment dropping cement into the ocean to build artificial reef structures

Martin County’s Artificial Reef Program began in the 1970s, when a group of retirees and sport fishing enthusiasts led by Bill Donaldson – calling themselves the “Reeftirees,” began a movement to create self-sustaining marine habitats.

With numerous thriving natural and artificial reefs along Martin County’s shores, the area truly lives up to its reputation as the “Treasure Coast.”

Each reef offers a bounty of rich aquatic life, creating ideal locales for saltwater anglers and recreational divers.

Offshore, the prevailing north current allows boaters to begin at the southern end of these sites and drift north across a two-mile stretch of diverse reef environments.

The offshore reefs are located within the Donaldson, Ernst, Sirotkin and South County Reef Sites. Each of these four permitted areas contain several artificial reefs which have been deployed over the years. Additional reef materials continue to be added to these areas.

The Martin County Utilities and Solid Waste Department works with the Martin County Artificial Reef Program to secure materials of opportunity by allowing contractors to dispose of clean concrete free of charge and storing the material for the program.

Heavy equipment dropping cement into the ocean to build artificial reef structures

This material of opportunity greatly reduces the cost of creating reefs and redirects the material to a beneficial use rather than to a landfill. Deployments include the Hailey Glasrud Reef (a steel vessel) in the Sirotkin and concrete rubble reefs in the Donaldson.

Martin County’s nearshore reef sites are located between the Stuart and Jensen Public Beaches. These three artificial reef sites were established in 2000, in order to provide mitigation for potential impacts to the nearshore reefs from the Hutchinson Island Beach Renourishment Project.

The material used for the nearshore reefs was the concrete debris from the removal of the Evans Crary Bridge, which was replaced with a high-rise bridge crossing the St. Lucie River between Stuart and Sewalls Point.

This material consisted of concrete bridge pieces, predominantly pilings, with some deck span pieces.

To date, dozens of artificial reefs have been deployed. They are monitored annually for marine activity and structural status by the Florida Oceanographic Society Research Dive Team.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has been a valuable partner in underwriting this monitoring, and in providing grants that fund other important coastal public works artificial reef construction projects.

Concrete materials beneath the ocean with artificial reef growth

A recent addition is the Reef Ball Program, which is coordinated through the Martin County Environmental Studies Center of the Martin County School District. Each year, students construct “reef balls,” which are then deployed in the St. Lucie River to create habitats for fish and underwater organisms.

This unique learning experience broadens their understanding of our aquatic ecology while creating new environments that foster marine life.  

Martin County’s Artificial Reef Program offers over 100 outstanding sites for fishing and dive exploration – and the number continues to grow.

There is no better way to appreciate our area’s natural treasures than to fish and explore these waters!