State begins new phase of artificial reef expansion off Long Island coast

Photos courtesy of the Governor’s Office
The 70-foot steel tugboat “Jane” is dropped into Hempstead Reef as a way to improve New York’s diverse marine life and boost Long Island’s recreational and sport fishing and diving industries. Fifteen more rail cars and a steel turbine are set to be dropped to Hempstead Reef as part of the first phase of deployment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press conference Wednesday, Sept. 16 to launch the third year of the largest artificial reef expansion in state history.

As a way to address the warning signs of climate change, while also bolstering tourism and recreational fishing, Gov. Cuomo launched the development of artificial reefs to help with soil erosion and expand ecology. 

According to Cuomo, the New York Reef Program comes at a minimal cost, with all of its materials being surplus and donated. The only cost is for the barge that drops the materials. 

For example, for this upcoming phase, Wells Fargo donated 75 rail cars to the Department of the Environment and Conservation for the project. Vessels, tugboats, turbines and other equipment will also be used as structures along the Atlantic floor. 


The DEC manages 12 artificial reefs, which include two reefs in Long Island Sound, two in the Great South Bay, and eight in the Atlantic Ocean. 

The Hempstead Reef, a 744-acre reef site located 3.3 nautical miles south of Jones Beach State Park in the Atlantic Ocean, with depths ranging from 50-72 feet, is the most recent recipient of recycled materials. 

The continued expansion of New York’s artificial reefs is meant to bolster Long Island’s tourism, fishing, and diving industries.

All of the material used to expand the reefs will be cleaned and made environmentally sensitive, according to Gov. Cuomo. They are also made of heavy steel, rather than aluminum, which can better withstand the salt and current of the ocean. 

“We’re taking effectively inanimate material, material that does not exist in a living form, dropping it into the water and then it immediately becomes living material just like a normal reef,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. 

Seggos described the processes of how materials like the tugboat, Jane, which was dropped into the water during the press conference, creates space for fish to seek shelter. He said that colonizing organisms such as anemones, sponges and algae then enter this space and provide structure directly on the sunken material. Shellfish such as lobsters and crabs begin to create a hard-bottom habitat. A food chain is created with an ecosystem that can eventually grow to place for larger marine species like dolphins and sharks in search of feeding opportunities. 

Seggos said that the reef will bring both environmental and potential economic benefits to Long Island. The expanded reef is expected to stimulate tourism through diving and fisheries. He described humans as part of the ecosystem created by the reefs.

“And then the top predator: the people come to fish and, of course, diving, which has been a very popular economic activity for years in this area and now we can certainly anticipate more traffic,” Seggos said. 

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office
A railcar is dropped into the ocean off of Long Island to help build an artificial reef. Seventy-five additional train cars, stripped of any dangerous materials, have been donated for the project.