SAVANNAH — A hopper barge laden with chicken cages became Georgia's newest artificial reef when the Department of Natural Resources sank it about 10 miles off Tybee Nov. 18.
"It's going to make great habitat," said January Murray, who manages the DNR reef program. "It's a long and tall piece of metal material. That is what fish love. Encrusting organisms will attach to the barge and coat it. Fish will flock to it, where they can shelter, feed and reproduce. Now they have a home; it's like if you build it they will come, and they do."
The 254-foot-long barge, donated by Georgia Recyclers, was stacked with 330 steel chicken cages donated by Claxton Chicken. The East Coast Terminal Co. in Savannah allowed the use of its land as a staging area where the cages were stored and donated the use of its equipment.
The vessel had previously been docked on the back river, sitting there long enough — about a decade — that several full-grown Chinese tallow trees sprouted from its bow. As scrap, the combined barge and cages donation was worth about $225,000. It cost almost $20,000 to clean the vessel to environmental standards and tow it to place, according to Murray.
That's "worth every penny," she said, because the material becomes an oasis on the otherwise sandy and barren bottom off Georgia's coast.
Murray listed the expected residents: "Angel fish, trigger fish, black sea bass, snapper, groupers, grunts tomtates, basically the reef fish community," she said. "Also damsel fish, sting rays, sharks, jellyfish. By building the habitat, everything flocks to it."
Georgia's Offshore Artificial Reef Program covers 52 square miles and consists of 20 offshore reefs, two "beach reefs" and eight Navy Tactical Air Crew Training System Towers. The barge joins a host of other underwater material at these reefs, including New York City subway cars, M60 battle tanks and other steel-hulled vessels. There's also a natural live bottom reef off Georgia, Gray's Reef, which is a national marine sanctuary.