After reef therapy, LI waterways feeling much better

Depth charge: State officials are giving marine life new places to congragate -- good news for fishing and tourism.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

New York State’s artificial-reef program has migrated north, with a fresh deployment of inorganic materials creating a new “marine habitat” in the Long Island Sound.

One year after dumping hundreds of tons of recycled materials three miles off the South Shore – including chunks of the blowed-up-real-good Tappan Zee Bridge – Albany’s Artificial Reef Initiative is looking to increase fishing and recreational opportunities off Nassau County’s North Shore with a similar sunken scrapheap.

This time, the target is Matinecock Reef, a 41-acre site located a half-mile north of the Town of Oyster Bay’s Peacock Point. A 46-foot scow and seven steel pontoons (each 20 feet in length) were among the recycled materials submerged Aug. 23, perchance to raise local fish populations – a “boon for tourism and … economic growth on Long Island,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“New York’s artificial reef program has quickly become a national model,” the governor said, noting the reuse/recycle effort “brings more fish for anglers to catch and more recreational opportunities to explore marine life.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo: Sea-worthy.

That’s the gist of the Artificial Reef Initiative, trumpeted by state officials as the largest artificial-reef expansion in New York history. Through the program, which began the carefully calculated dumping of recycled materials in 2018, the state Department of Environmental Conservation manages 12 artificial reefs, including two in Long Island Sound, two in the Great South Bay and eight in the Atlantic Ocean’s depths.

Last year, the DEC used cleaned, environmentally neutral materials recovered from the New York State Department of Transportation, the NYS Canal Corp. and the State Thruway Authority to bulk up its artificial reefs, including the 744-acre site known as Hempstead Reef.

The Aug. 23 pro-aquatic life/pro-tourism dump-a-thon at Matinecock Reef added materials recovered from the New York Power Authority, including two retired NYPA turbines.

Earlier this month, the DEC bolstered the Fire Island Reef with chunks of decommissioned regional bridges, highway materials recycled from the Staten Island Expressway and the steel frame of the retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vessel M/V Hudson, according to the governor’s office.

By incorporating such a wide assortment of scrubbed-and-ready recycled materials, the Artificial Reef Initiative is not only improving marine habitats but landlocked ones, according to NYS Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton, who trumpeted new (and useful) life for old junk.

Rust in peace: The M/V Hudson, ready for new life in a watery grave.

“Our out-of-use canal assets are contributing to the economic vitality of our coastline communities and the environmental stewardship of our marine habitats,” Stratton said in a statement. “New York’s waterways and coastlines attract visitors from all over the world.”

While the construction of artificial reefs in New York waterways dates back to the mid-20th century, the new initiative – which Cuomo’s office called “the state’s first coordinated effort to stimulate the full environmental and economic benefits of artificial reefs” – appears to be hitting its marks.

Citing DEC “monitoring surveys,” the governor’s office noted an increase in fishing activity since the Artificial Reef Initiative began last year – including a single-day combined vessel count of 369 boats at the program’s numerous reef sites, “nearly twice the prior daily high vessel count.”

Such statistics are a prize haul for any angler-heavy coastal community, according to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

“The reef program provides a creative reuse of materials,” the commissioner added. “And it’s a great example of state agency partners working together with a common goal – to boost local economies while providing environmental incentives for our marine fisheries.”