Massive barge purposefully sunk off of Edisto shoreline to create artificial reef

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By Jeff Dennis

It took more than two hours for a massive 260-foot-long barge to sink into the sea on Tuesday so that a new artificial reef could be created near Edisto Beach.

The barge, which was sunk 13 miles off Edisto Beach at the Edisto Nearshore Reef in 60-feet of water, will add a habitat for fish of all sizes and is one of the largest artificial reefs to be created along South Carolina’s coastline.

This reef is part of a plan by the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), which is adding new reef material to all of South Carolina’s permitted reef sites by 2030, in conjunction with SCDNR and sponsors like Sea Hunt Boats. The new artificial reef at Edisto is CCA’s largest one so far and is sure to be a magnet for cobia, redfish, sharks and other marine life.

Some of the first artificial reefs off S.C. were fabricated cement balls that provided fish with habitat on an otherwise flat and featureless ocean bottom. Now, these reefs have advanced and include large boats and barges, mostly because they are easily towed to a nearshore reef location and they provide sea life with a 3-D underwater habitat.

The sunken barge along Edisto’s coastline is 260-feet long, 50-feet wide and 30-feet deep. It included 12 shipping containers that were welded to the deck of the barge, and holes were cut in them so that fish can swim through and navigate the entire structure. The Town of Mt. Pleasant recently demolished their water tower and donated part of that superstructure, which is also attached to the deck of the barge, providing even more surface area and relief.

“This project off Edisto is our 15th artificial reef deployment thus far,” said Scott Whitaker, executive director for the CCA in SC. “The barge was towed from Stevens Shipyard on Yonges Island, and even with a flat ocean it took about a two hour cruise to reach the site. Then we simply opened the water intake valves on the barge, it slowly filled with water, and after about an hour and a half the barge slowly submerged and sunk to the bottom. Believe it or not, the fish will start using this structure non-stop after only about two weeks.”

A shark sculpture was also added to this artificial reef.

“Scuba divers will utilize this artificial reef, too, so SCDNR attached the likeness of a shark to the barge for them to capture in future underwater photographs,” said Whitaker. “Each artificial reef increases the places for people to go fishing or diving, while adding live bottom habitat for marine life to occupy. We are already taking a look at the next vessel to be sunk off of S.C., and that could happen in just a matter of weeks. We are grateful to our partners who provide materials and funding for new artificial reefs.”

The CCA has chapters throughout South Carolina, including in the ACE Basin, at Edisto and in Walterboro. “We are hopeful that the ACE Basin Chapter in Walterboro and Edisto will become active again,” said Whitaker. “We are starting to have our fundraiser banquets again this year after a pause during Covid, and the banquets at the Walterboro armory were always a success. If anyone has interest in volunteering with CCA, I hope they will reach out to my office in Columbia. We look forward to hearing the fishing reports from the new barge at the Edisto 60 reef in the future.”

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