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Fish for the Future

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 12:22 PM CST
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Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.
Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.(ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - At the recent Alabama Wildlife Federation Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards, Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), received a proclamation from Governor Kay Ivey, designating an area off Dauphin Island as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.

“I am very humbled and honored to have my name forever attached to one of the artificial reef zones off the coast of Alabama,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It was a very nice surprise for Governor Ivey to provide that proclamation, with the help of Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos and Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon. It was also a blessing to have that proclamation presented with my wife, my children, my parents, most of our senior ADCNR staff, and several hundred other conservationists present at the dinner. That really makes it memorable.”

Blankenship grew up on the Alabama Gulf Coast and has always been connected to the Gulf of Mexico.

“I went to work on a charter boat at 14 years old, fishing in the waters off Dauphin Island,” he said. “I have fished there with my dad, my wife and children, and many friends over my lifetime. I have patrolled those waters as a Conservation Enforcement Officer and have had the opportunity to be involved with permitting new zones and sinking thousands of reefs. To know my name will perpetually be associated with a place that is so special to me personally is awesome.”

Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.
Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.(ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES)

Despite having the largest artificial reef program in the nation, if not the world, ADCNR continues to strive to make improvements.

“Even though we already have had a very good artificial reef program for several decades, we have not rested on our laurels,” Blankenship said. “Beginning a few years ago, we permitted nine new reef areas within 9 miles of shore, in state waters, and have worked to build new reefs in these zones. In 2021, we received a Corps of Engineers permit to expand those nearshore zones as well as increase the offshore zones another 63 square miles. We have obtained more than $30 million in funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund and other sources to add several thousand reefs offshore, nearshore and inshore to provide recreational opportunities for people with boats both big and small.”

Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.
Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.(ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES)

Artificial Reef Coordinator Craig Newton said contracts are being executed to deploy 456 super pyramid reefs. A total of 164 of these modules will be deployed in the Blankenship Reef Zone, while the remainder of the super pyramids under the contract will be placed in several other reef zones offshore of Alabama.

Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.
Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.(ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES)

“These reefs are extremely productive and help support the state’s economy.”

The newest deployment in the nearshore zones resulted from a partnership project between MRD and Alabama Power. A large package boiler was taken out of service at Alabama Power’s Washington County Cogeneration Facility near McIntosh.

“It was going to be fairly expensive to decommission and disassemble using traditional methods,” Newton said. “Alabama Power grouped up with Cooper Towing and placed the boiler onto a barge and towed it to the Alabama Wildlife Federation Reef Zone in about 62 feet of water. This was another unique and extremely beneficial project where state resource managers and industry partnered for conservation benefits and cost savings to customers of Alabama Power.”

Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.
Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.(ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES)

As part of an $8.135 million expansion of the Alabama Artificial Reef Program, 1,203 juvenile reef fish shelters are being deployed in the newly expanded 6-to 9-mile reef zone.

Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.
Area off Dauphin Island designated as the Christopher M. Blankenship Artificial Reef Zone.(ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES)

“These juvenile reef fish shelters will provide unique habitat in a transitional zone between inshore habitat and offshore habitat that will allow reef fish to utilize them as they move offshore,” Newton said. “Ultimately, it’s going to provide habitat in an area that historically has produced relatively large red snapper, Given the placement and the nutrient-rich effluent coming out of Mobile Bay between Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan, the new zone has a significant amount of production potential. With this reef zone and the juvenile reefs in the 6- to 9-mile zones, we expect it to be extremely productive for decades, maybe even centuries.”

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