Air pipes

NCDOT provides damaged concrete pipes to help offshore artificial reefs

Concrete pipes damaged by hurricanes Matthew and Florence will find a new destination off the coast of North Carolina.

More than 1,000 tons of pipe will be used to help shore up two artificial reefs off the coast of Brunswick County, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

The department has partnered with the NC Division of Marine Fisheries in an effort to find a profitable new use for damaged pipes that will help marine life.

Reefs are structures that replicate the ecological functions of food and refuge that fish and other marine species need to survive, according to an NCDOT press release. Concrete is just one of the materials used to create more than 40 reefs off the coast. Others include materials such as steel hulls from old tugboats and debris from demolition of bridges.

It’s great for both the ecosystem and the anglers.

David Snead, Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina

This shipment of materials came from discarded culverts that had been stored in the NCDOT maintenance yard in Columbus County. Personnel from this facility transported the pipes to the Port of Wilmington. According to the Marine Fisheries Division, which oversees the reef program, a marine contractor will use a barge this spring to transport and offload gear to the reefs off Oak Island and the town of Shallotte.

The material will be used to make three-dimensional structures, as well as to create a sparse field on the ocean floor made up of pipes. This diversity of designs allows reefs to thrive as habitats, said Jordan Byrum, artificial reef coordinator at the Marine Fisheries Division since 2018.

Recently, over 100 tons of similarly damaged pipes were sent to the port from Bladen County to be used for the same purpose.

A “win-win” situation

The idea to donate the pipes was forged at a coastal resilience conference, according to Ken Clark, district engineer for NCDOT in Columbus County.

“We considered many options on how to properly dispose of this unusable material when we formed this unique collaboration with the Division of Marine Fisheries last year,” Clark said in an NCDOT press release. “This program mutually benefits both state agencies.”

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

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Concrete has been used for over 40 years in the state’s artificial reef program.

As for the added environmental impact of potentially contaminated concrete, Byrum said the material used must meet EPA and state environmental quality standards. He said concrete has been used in the artificial reef program for 40 years.

“In the past, we used freshly made damaged concrete from commercial concrete pipe factories, so there was no contamination,” Byrum said.

Disposing of the materials in a construction and demolition landfill would have cost NCDOT $65,000 in tipping fees. To avoid having to pay this fee, the department used dump trucks and trailers to transport material from Columbus County to the port.

Funding for storing the pipes at the port and transporting them to the artificial reefs is covered by fees collected by the state from recreational fishing licenses, Byrum said.

David Sneed, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, said his organization is very supportive of the artificial reef program and the materials used to make the reefs. He called it a “win-win situation”.

“It’s great both for the ecosystem and for the anglers,” Snead said.

Snead added that reefs are great structures for fish and they help fish stocks grow.

NC’s CCA is a community of conservationists and recreational fishers working to promote sound management of public trust marine and estuarine resources to protect those resources for the enjoyment of present and future generations, according to its website.

In addition to artificial reefs, the Marine Fisheries Division also maintains 25 estuarine reefs, 14 of which serve as oyster sanctuaries. These estuarine sites are found in Pamlico Sound and its tributaries, Bogue Sound, the New River and the Cape Fear River.

A study 2020 by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration found that natural and artificial reefs function similarly to fish habitats. For the artificial variety, the location and material used to build them can cause some to perform better than others.