U.S. Department of the Interior
Minerals Management Services
Gulf of Mexico OCS Region


University of
New Orleans

Gulf of Mexico Fish and Fisheries:
Bringing Together New and Recent Research

October 24-26, 2000  New Orleans


Reef BallsTM: How Combining Designed Reefs with Oil Superstructures used as Artificial Reefs can help the overall reef system to better mimic natural reef systems

Todd Ryan Barber, President, Reef Ball Foundation, Inc., Chairman, Reef Ball Foundation, Inc, Bradenton, FL

Reef Balls are state of the art designed artificial reefs used primarily to restore ailing reefs or to create new reefs for ecological enhancement, fishing, scuba diving, and many other specific end use goals. Reef Balls have been used in over 1,000 projects worldwide with over 100,000 Reef Balls deployed and functioning as reef ecosystems. Reef Balls are the most widely used designed artificial reef system in the world. When combined with higher profile structures, especially superstructures such as oil platforms and rigs used as artificial reefs, the resulting reef can be turned to more closely match natural reefs. Reef Balls have been used in the Arabian Gulf and Asia by several oil companies to help in this regard. Although Reef Balls have been widely used in the Gulf of Mexico, they have yet to be combined with Oil superstructures to gain the same advantages.

Reef Balls are not artificial reefs, but rather are a new category of reef enhancement called, "Designed Reefs." Designing modules to specifically match goals and expectations of scientists, reef managers and reef builders is afforded by the flexibility of Reef Balls allowing high profile structures to be augmented to produce, rather than just attract fish. Therefore, when compared to building an artificial reef from only an oil structure,, it is possible to define the expected goals of the combination of structures and designed materials to best to meet specific objectives. In the past, many reefs were built simply "to improve the marine environment" under the assumption that because fish and other forms of life were present that the reefs were performing a positive function. Increasingly, reefs are built for very specific goals because the science of reef building is rapidly advancing. Even when the goal is simply "to improve the marine environment" we now know an accepted criteria of measurement is to gauge the species diversity and population densities of all life of nearby natural reefs as compared to the constructed reefs. Designed reefs combined with larger profile materials are useful tools to allow scientists, reef managers, and reef builders to achieve this goal. When used in conjunction with oil rigs and other high profile structures, Reef Balls can effectively provide the additional habitat required to service the large populations of fish that are attracted to high profile structures without the associated reef biomass. This can lead to a reef that more closely mimics natural reefs and therefore is more broadly accepted by scientists, politicians and the public. Reef Balls are internationally patented and/or copyrighted technologies that allow nearly all natural reef features to be mimicked. Variables which can be adjusted to meet natural conditions include; 1) stability, 2) void spacing, 3) hole sizing, 4) hole complexity, 5) surface texture, 6) surface chemical composition (i.e. ph, exposed aggregates, etc.), 6) bottom features, 7) subsidence variables, 8) overall weight, 9) size of units in both height and width, 10) interconnection of holes, 12) layout or spacing on the sea floor, 13) density of units and proportioning of sizing ratios, and many other minor factors. In addition to being highly adaptable, Reef Balls are often the least expensive alternative due to a technology which allows placement without expensive barges, tugs or cranes; high surface area; and life expectancies of well over 500 years. Keywords: Reef Ball, Reef Balls, Oil Rigs, Oil Platforms, Artificial Reefs, Designed Reefs, Coral, Reef restoration, mitigation, scuba, diving, fishing, reefball, artificial reef.