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Vessel-to-Reef Projects

The purpose of creating an artificial reef is to enhance aquatic habitat for the benefit of marine resources and to provide additional options for conserving, managing and/or developing fisheries resources. Appropriate vessel clean-up and remediation together with strategic reef site (location) selection will maximize the opportunity for converted vessels to provide benefits the environment as artificial reefs.

What are the best management practices for preparing vessels to create artificial reefs?

The National Guidance: Best Management Practices for Preparing Vessels Intended to Create Artificial Reefs provides a consistent, national, environmentally-based approach for preparing obsolete and decommissioned military and commercial vessels for use as artificial reefs.

Implementation of the best management practices (BMPs) should ensure that appropriately prepared vessels will be environmentally sound as artificial reefs. The guidance identifies materials of environmental concern that may be present on a vessel, and specifically identifies where such materials are likely to be found.

The guidance provides a general performance goal for the “clean-up” of each category of material, and provides information on pre-sinking clean-up methods. Materials of environmental concern include: fuels and oil, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, paints and paint residues, debris (e.g., vessel debris, floatables, and introduced material) and other materials (e.g., mercury, refrigerants).

In addition to the intended use when preparing vessels to serve as artificial reef habitat, the vessel preparation BMPs may have applicability to other in-water uses of vessels, such as the creation of recreational diving opportunities.

Must all vessel-to-reef projects comply with this guidance?

Although EPA prepared the document to recommend the BMPs as national guidance for vessel-to-reef projects, the BMPs are appropriate and should be implemented for all permitted in-water uses of ex-vessels. The guidance does not, however, impose binding requirements on states or other regulatory or resource management authorities or any other entity.

Accomplishment and verification of the BMP clean-up performance goals, however, could help support permit applications under the Clean Water Act section 404 or Rivers and Harbors Act section 10, which are statutory provisions administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. State and local laws may also apply to vessel preparation. Further, EPA officials may find BMP documentation useful as part of EPA review and certification under the Liberty Ship Act. Note that, if a vessel removed from the Naval Vessel Register will be used as an artificial reef, the Secretary of the Navy must ensure that the preparation of that vessel is conducted in accordance with the BMPs.