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The Business of Building Artificial Reefs

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Reef Re-creator: Ionature Christopher Wojcik.


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<% End If%> ATLANTA - An aquatic exhibits designer crafts a plan to reinvigorate his state's marine life and fishing industry.  New Jersey launched its artificial reef program in 1984 to increase habitats for ocean life. There are opponents who say artificial reefs are kill zones where fishing boats can trawl for easy catches.

Wojcik disagrees; he firmly believes the reefs create more habitats and expand the areas where sea life can propagate, which is good for those species, the environment and the state's fishing industry. He also hopes the reef will become a draw for scuba divers anxious to learn about the species it houses.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife holds permits for 15 artificial reef sites, potentially covering 25 square miles of sea floor.

The USS Oriskany, a sunken aircraft carrier off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., is the largest artificial reef in the world.Since word got out about his plans, Wojcik has taken on other commercial reef commissions. His ideas are a sea world away from the nondescript norm. One of his reefs, which will be dropped near Sea Girt, N.J., will blend the cremated remains of a local fisherman with concrete and steel to create a 10-foot flounder sculpture.

"It's a great memorial," Wojcik says. "His family will be able to scuba dive near it [and watch] it attract the very type of fish that he loved."
David LangVisitors to the New Jersey shore town of Brielle might be shocked to see a giant horseshoe crab perched behind the Shipwreck Grill. Not to worry, though: The sculpted sea creature--made of steel rebar covered in concrete--will provide a home for underwater life when it's dropped into the ocean this spring, about five miles southeast of where it currently sits.

Christopher Wojcik, founder of Bay Head, N.J.-based Ionature, which designs and builds exhibits and habitats for zoos and aquariums, designed the reef--first featured in our May 2011 issue--to provide the right proportion of cover for young fish and crustaceans, surface area for encrusting organisms and interstitial spaces for other creatures.

Wojcik says he "can't wait to take people out there" and hopes the reef will soon become a tourist attraction for boaters and scuba divers. For photos and project updates, visit ArtasReef.com.

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