S.C. Memorial Reef’s first structure almost ready

The first piece of structure that will be deployed as part of the Charleston Memorial Reef is nearly complete. The 260-foot barge will offer more than 100 feet of profile off the bottom when it is completed and sunk in 350 feet of water.

If the folks who have spearheaded the effort to develop the South Carolina Memorial Reef had their druthers, they might be heading offshore on good days to chase pelagic species attracted to the area. Instead, they’ve had to learn patience as preparing the structures that will be deployed has taken longer than anticipated.

The good news is that the end is in sight. The first of two barges that will be deployed could be ready within a matter of a couple of weeks, and then it’s up to Mother Nature to provide a favorable weather window in which to tow the giant fish-attracting device 50 miles offshore and sink it in an area that has been designated the Charleston Deep Reef.

“It’s taken a lot longer to build but it’s coming together nicely. Our original goal was an August-September time frame,” said Steve Leasure, part of the group that came up with the idea of a deep-water reef that would serve to memorialize members of the offshore fishing community who have passed away.

Leasure said heavy rains slowed construction and the committee wanted to make sure it could maximize available materials, and there has been a hodge-podge of materials obtained. It might be described as a “Sanford and Son” creation, a tribute to the old sitcom about a junkyard owner.

The two barges that eventually will sit on the bottom of the ocean in 350 feet of water are 260 feet long, 52 feet wide and 20 to 25 feet tall, according to Bob Martore, who heads the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ artificial reef program. But that doesn’t supply a lot of vertical relief since the reef is in 350 feet of water.

So everyone involved in the project began reaching out for materials that could be utilized. Someone donated a large crane. A number of 40-foot steel truck chassis were obtained and have been welded together in teepee fashion. Steel trucking containers have been stacked in pyramid fashion. Cable will be strung from the top of the crane and affixed to the barge deck like a Christmas tree. Holes have been cut in the structure to allow water to flow freely. Several steel crosses constructed of I-beams will be welded to the deck.

The finished product is expected to rise 100 feet above the ocean’s bottom and will attract the entire marine food chain in a barren area. The reef will provide habitat for endangered grouper species.

The South Carolina Memorial Reef (scmemorialreef.com), part of the greater Charleston Deep Reef, which is permitted over a four-by-six mile expanse, is part of a Type II Marine Protected Area which will allow trolling for pelagics but will prohibit bottom fishing and any type of commercial fishing.

Martore said Stevens Towing, which has done much of the work, will move the first barge out and bring the second one in to begin work on it as soon as possible. They hope to have that barge deployed before the next hurricane season.

Martore said DNR would like to add more structure to the Charleston Deep Reef if it becomes available.

“We’ve talked to the Navy regarding getting some larger vessels. We always try to stay in touch,” he said.

DNR has 45 permitted sites up and down the coast and Martore said he doesn’t anticipate any additional sites being permitted.

“On all the sites we have, it sounds like a lot of material out there, but when you calculate the total footprint, the area is less than five percent of our permitted area,” he said.

In the past five to six years the group has raised more than $450,000 to fund the reef, but Leasure said people can continue to donate and help fund fisheries research off the South Carolina coast.

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