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Moreton Bay artificial reefs

Fish populating the 'fish boxes' at North Moreton Artificial Reef.

Fish populating the 'fish boxes' at North Moreton Artificial Reef.

The Queensland Government has established six artificial reefs in Moreton Bay Marine Park, at a cost of $2.25 million. These reefs provide recreational anglers with a range of exciting fishing opportunities in the marine park.

Artificial reefs attract and sustain a wide diversity of marine life by providing protection from predators, shelter from ocean currents, breeding opportunities and a supply of rich food sources. The variety of habitats created by Moreton Bay’s artificial reefs sustain a diversity of fish species and have been designed to benefit a range of fishing techniques—including spearfishing, bottom fishing and game fishing for pelagic species.

A team effort

Construction of the reefs was a significant undertaking involving careful planning. Although the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) was the lead agency responsible, a working group was established at the beginning of the project to guide the development of the program. The working group comprised of representatives from recreational and commercial fishing bodies, the tourism industry, conservation groups, QPWS and other government departments.

The working group provided advice on all major aspects of the program, including determining the purpose of the reefs, selection of the sites, materials to be used, current management and monitoring of the reefs and enhancement and management of the sites in the future.

The working group

Special thanks and acknowledgement to the members of the working group:

Queensland Game Fishing Association

Sunfish Queensland

Ecofishers Qld Inc

Queensland Charter Vessel Association

Australian Underwater Federation

Australian Marine Conservation Society

Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Gold Coast Spearfishing Club

Artificial reef sites

The six artificial reef sites are:

Download a map of these locations (PDF, 1.0M)*.

The Tiwi Pearl was sunk to become part of the Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef.

The Tiwi Pearl was sunk to become part of the Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef.

The Tiwi Pearl stands perfectly upright on the seabed.

The Tiwi Pearl stands perfectly upright on the seabed.

Butterfly fish school around the concrete pipes at the Harry Atkinson sites.

Butterfly fish school around the concrete pipes at the Harry Atkinson sites.

Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef

The Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef covers an area of 34 ha and is located 7 km east-south-east of St Helena Island.

This artificial reef was first established in 1975 when more than 17,000 old car tyres were deployed at the site over a five year period. In 1987, 200 shopping trolleys were also placed at the site and some of this material is still present.

The enhancement of this site was undertaken as part of the artificial reef program and commenced in December 2008 with the deployment of 150 m3 of quarried rock creating many shelter sites for small fish.

This was followed by a major extension of the reef with the scuttling of the Tiwi Pearl—a 24 m, 96 T, ex-tuna fishing vessel—on 12 March 2010. The wreck is located in 21 m of water and is standing perfectly upright on the seabed. The highest point of the wreck rises 12 m from the seabed.

In August 2010, the artificial reef was completed when 450 T of clean concrete pipe were deployed in four locations at the site. Each cluster consists of approximately 23 pipes of varying size, the height of each cluster ranges from 2.5–6 m above the sea floor. The pipes were kindly donated by Humes.

Some activities are prohibited at this site without a permit. See the special activity notices and the use restrictions summary table for details.

Reef balls were deployed at West Peel Artificial Reef.

Reef balls were deployed at West Peel Artificial Reef.

West Peel Artificial Reef

West Peel Artificial Reef is located west of Peel Island and north-east of Cleveland Point.

This sheltered reef, close to boat ramps, was completed on 16 December 2010 with additional reef balls added in 2012 and June 2013. It  consists of a total of 341 'reef balls' distributed over 50 ha in 19 clusters. Each cluster has 10–16 'reef balls' of varying sizes and heights range between 500 mm and 800 mm off the sea floor. The 'reef balls' within each cluster are spaced a few metres apart and each cluster is between 100–200 m apart.

Some activities are prohibited at this site without a permit. See the special activity notices and use restrictions summary table for details.

A reef ball is home for a grey carpet shark.

A reef ball is home for a grey carpet shark.

East Coochie Artificial Reef

This sheltered reef is located east of Coochiemudlo Island and consists of a total of 174 'reef balls' distributed over 15 ha in 13 clusters. Each cluster has 11–16 'reef balls' of varying sizes and heights range between 500 mm and 800 mm off the sea floor. The 'reef balls' within each cluster are spaced a few metres apart and each cluster is between 80–100 m apart.

Some activities are prohibited at this site without a permit. See the special activity notices and use restrictions summary table for details.

Fish caves were deployed at Wild Banks Artificial Reef.

Fish caves were deployed at Wild Banks Artificial Reef.

Wild Banks Artificial Reef

Wild Banks Artificial Reef lies east of the Wild Banks, which are east of Bribie Island.

At this site, 'fish caves' have been deployed at an average depth of 35 m within a 175 ha area. Purpose built to withstand the local conditions at the Wild Banks site, the 'fish caves' are fabricated from steel and stand 11 m high, 11 m wide and weigh 14.4 T. The 'fish caves' create a tall profile designed to attract pelagic fish species like mackerel, dolphin fish and wahoo.

Some activities are prohibited at this site without a permit. See the special activity notices and use restrictions summary table for details.

Fish boxes are already attracting fish to North Moreton Artificial Reef.

Fish boxes are already attracting fish to North Moreton Artificial Reef.

North Moreton Artificial Reef

This artificial reef site is located north of Moreton Island. This reef is primarily a spearfishing site, designed to attract pelagic fish species at a shallower depth than the Wild Banks site.

To create the artificial reef, 25 'fish boxes' were deployed in clusters over an area of 200 ha, at an average depth of 14 m. There are three clusters, each consisting of a least six individual 'fish boxes'.

Some activities are prohibited at this site without a permit. See the special activity notices and use restrictions summary table for details.

Fish boxes were deployed at South Stradbroke Artificial Reef.

Fish boxes were deployed at South Stradbroke Artificial Reef.

South Stradbroke Artificial Reef

South Stradbroke Artificial Reef is located east of South Stradbroke Island, approximately 3 km north of the Gold Coast seaway.

To create this artificial reef, 20 'fish boxes' were deployed in clusters across the 208 ha site, at an average depth of 22 m. There are four clusters, each consisting of various numbers of individual 'fish boxes'. This reef has been designed to attract both pelagic and reef fish species.

Some activities are prohibited at this site without a permit. See the special activity notices and use restrictions summary table for details.

Artificial reef use restrictions

The artificial reefs have been designed specifically for recreational fishing with special activity notices gazetted to prohibit and/or restrict several other recreational activities and commercial fishing. Fines may be issued for not complying with the special activity notices.

The table below gives a summary of the prohibited and restricted activities as published in the special activity notices for each site.

Special activity notices

Use restrictions summary table

Activity/Artificial reef site Harry Atkinson West Peel East Coochie Wild Banks North Moreton South Stradbroke
Recreational fishing Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Spearfishing No No No Yes1 Yes Yes
Charter fishing2 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Commercial fishing No No No No No No
Anchoring Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Snorkelling No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scuba diving No No No No No No
Surface-supplied-air diving No No No No No No

1. To a maximum depth of 12 m.

2. A maximum of one visit per artificial reef site, per day, for a maximum of one hour. Marine park permit required.

Tips from a fishing champion

Kim Bain grew up in the 80s and 90s fishing in Moreton Bay, both inshore and offshore. She has also been a fishing writer for years and continues to bring new fishing techniques for local waters to the publics' attention. These days, Kim travels the world making fishing television programs and fishing professionally—her titles include quite a few local and international championships. Kim keeps a boat in Brisbane and wets a line regularly with her family.

Kim’s general tips for fishing artificial reefs

Relationships between reef structures, bait and target species

Knowing the behaviour of your target species allows you to put your bait in their feeding zone.

Some target species will adopt the artificial reef structure as their new home. Other target species may either live in the vicinity of the reef, because of a food supply such as schools of bait fish, or they swim by an artificial reef in the hope of a feeding opportunity.

Use of electronic sonar equipment can tell you about the target species and bait fish concentrations that interact with the underwater artificial reef structures. The use of sonar is best done with a stealth approach, such as from a drifting boat or a craft under either paddle or electric power.

Once you have gathered as much information as you can and constructed a 'picture' of what appears to be happening under the water, you can develop your fishing strategy.

Cover the depths

The fishing strategy you use may involve presenting baits or lures at a variety of depths. The catch of the day could come from any depth. It might be a snapper from mid-water (also known as a suspended fish), a mackerel from the surface, or a flathead off the bottom.

Hot spots

Generally the prime fishing spot is the front of the artificial reef structure—where it is first hit by the current. Note that in bay waters this will be influenced by the different directions of the incoming and outgoing tides. Other hot spots include the 'pocket' behind the reef—where the current flow has been obstructed—and also along the sides of a long structure such as a wreck.

Importantly, there may also be schools of bait fish and suspended fish randomly swimming around, often within 50–100 m of the reef structure/s (this is particularly relevant to large structures in deeper water). These bait fish are often followed by game fish!

Kim’s tips for fishing each individual artificial reef

Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef

Fish wrecks by targeting individual spots and then moving on. If you anchor, your position will often need to be pinpoint accurate in order to generate fish catching success.

West Peel Artificial Reef

A big snapper is on the wish list of nearly every fisherman and the shallow reefs inside Moreton Bay, including this artificial reef, will present prime snapper catching opportunities. These opportunities are best exploited using electric motors and casting ahead of the drift.

'Electricking' around structures in shallow water allows for the presentation of a lure or bait in a stealthy manner. Target the big fish rather than just whatever fish comes along.

East Coochie Artificial Reef

It’s hard to know which reef ball cluster the big fish will be on, so ideally—if there are only a few boats around—drift across the whole artificial reef area. Use electric motors to keep things quiet and cast ahead of the drift so the bait or lure is presented to fish that are not yet aware of your presence. Every boat must keep super quiet. Starting an engine, or arriving to the spot under power, can put the fish off the bite for a long time.

Wild Banks Artificial Reef

Trolling—by paddling, combustion engine, sail or electric motor—is a great way to cover 'ground' and intersect with game fish that may be either stalking the bait fish and/or cruising past the structure. Trolling is best executed in deeper waters, like at this site, because combustion engine noise can spook fish, especially in shallow water.

The deeper reefs outside of the bay (i.e. in offshore waters) are home to both game fish and reef fish. Therefore, deeper locations can be fished successfully using a mixture of techniques such as drifting with dead and live bait, and trolling with lures and/or baits.

North Moreton Artificial Reef

Anchoring is often a less productive fishing method, unless you combine it with a berley trail and the ability to release your anchor quickly when you need to chase a fish. Anchoring works best when the current takes your bait(s) to the prime 'hot spots'.

South Stradbroke Artificial Reef

A drift can be viewed as a super-slow troll where the current and winds are the driving force. Generally slower drifts produce better catches—your rate of drift can be slowed by deploying a drift-sock behind your boat. The secret to drift fishing is to present surface and/or slow sinking mid-depth bait ahead of your drift. Species behind your boats drift path can also be targeted, but there is an increased chance that any fish that’s been drifted over may be spooked and therefore less likely to take any offered bait.

Fish responsibly

Fishing responsibly helps ensure Moreton Bay remains a great fishing location.

Fishing responsibly helps ensure Moreton Bay remains a great fishing location.

As well as observing zoning and fishing regulations, it is important for anglers to adopt responsible fishing practices. These practices help to protect the bay and maintain the ecological balance.

By following these guidelines you’re helping to ensure that Moreton Bay remains a great spot for fishing.

When fishing:

  • Practice sustainable fishing—take only what you need.
  • Use barbless hooks, where possible, and avoid using stainless steel hooks which don’t dissolve.
  • Collect only enough bait for your immediate needs and release any unwanted live bait into the same area where it was collected.
  • Do not use pest or non-native fish for bait. Never release introduced species into the water.
  • If you’re unsure of the fish identity or size, release the fish immediately.
  • Return all undersize and unwanted fish to the water as quickly as possible—gently release the fish head first.
  • If you’re keeping the fish, remove it from the hook or net immediately and kill it humanely.
  • Do not litter—clean up all fishing gear (such as discarded tackle and line, and bait bags) and take it back to shore to dispose of it properly.

When spearfishing:

  • Spear only what you need.
  • Do not pursue a fish if you are unsure of its identity or size.
  • Do not spear big fish merely as trophies because these are important breeding stock.
  • Always track down injured fish, do not let them swim off injured.

Creating a reef

Materials of opportunity, such as donated concrete pipes, were used to enhance Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef.

Materials of opportunity, such as donated concrete pipes, were used to enhance Harry Atkinson Artificial Reef.

Creating the artificial reefs involved extensive research and planning with numerous factors, such as site locations and reef materials, requiring careful consideration.

Deciding the locations

A detailed planning process done in conjunction with a working group—involving extensive mapping and analysis of all the physical, environmental, social and economic constraints—was undertaken to determine the best locations for the six artificial reef sites. Some of the major factors considered include:

  • aspirations of the recreational fishing community (determined through the working group)
  • historic use of each site (e.g. recreational fishing, commercial fishing, diving, etc.)
  • proximity to natural reefs and declared green zones
  • water depth
  • accessibility of the site to recreational anglers.

Deciding on reef materials

With the locations decided the next step was to determine the most appropriate materials and structures to use for each site.  This involved taking into account:

  • the desired species to be attracted
  • intended activities (fishing, spearfishing, anchoring, etc.)
  • local conditions (wind, waves, tide, depth, etc.)
  • safety (clearance heights, navigation etc.)
  • size, shape and weight of the material
  • life expectancy of the material (a minimum of 30 years was required)
  • material characteristics (density, environmental impact, no contaminants)
  • geometric design (needed to be stable and remain within the permit area for each site)
  • deployment constraints (crane, divers, weather, etc.)
  • cost.

All materials also had to comply with Australian standards and legislation, have a minimum of 5 m clearance above the structure at Lowest Astronomical Tide, and be a minimum height of 2 m above the seabed (for offshore sites).

Each artificial reef site has a permit area for which a development approval was granted. The permits outline the maximum quantity and type of material that can be deployed and specific conditions for each site.

Reef materials

Reef ball deployment. Photo: Joe Caloiero, QPWS.

Reef ball deployment. Photo: Joe Caloiero, QPWS.

Cardinal fish make this reef ball their home.

Cardinal fish make this reef ball their home.

Reef balls

A reef ball is actually not a ball, rather a hemispherical hollow concrete unit invented over 15 years ago in the United States of America. Marine life can take advantage of the hollow interior, gaining access via holes in the structure. The size and number of holes can easily be varied depending upon the reef’s application.

Its design has evolved over many years of trials, fine tuning and input from engineers and scientists.

Key features

  • Aesthetically pleasing—in a very short period they take on a natural rock/bommie appearance.
  • Highly stable—specifically engineered to stay upright and withstand waves and currents.
  • Durable in the marine environment—marine concrete mix is engineered to last for several hundred years in sea water.
  • pH adjusted surface—special concrete mix and construction technique is used to ensure rapid colonisation.
  • Maximum productivity—the dome shape, holes, internal void and rough texture mimic natural reefs and maximise species richness.

West Peel Artificial Reef

This reef consists of 341 reef balls, including:

  • 278 pallet balls
  • 21 bay balls
  • 42 mini bay balls.

Reef balls of varying size were placed at 19 locations within the artificial reef site. The balls in each group (comprising 10 or 16 reef balls) are spaced a few metres apart. The spacing between each group is between 100 and 200 m. The balls were lowered into place with a crane and automatically released on the seabed by a 'wanger'—a gravity hook that is released when the weight is taken off the hook as the ball touches the sea floor.

East Coochie Artificial Reef

East Coochie consists of 174 reef balls, including:

  • 132 pallet balls
  • 42 bay balls.

Balls of varying size were placed at 13 locations within the artificial reef site, with each cluster comprising 11 or 16 reef balls.

Sizes of reef balls

Type of ball Width Height Weight
Pallet ball 1.22 m 0.88 m 682800 kg
Bay ball 0.91 m 0.61 m 250341 kg
Mini bay ball 0.76 m 0.53 m 120180 kg
A 'fish cave' purpose-built for the Wild Banks site.

A 'fish cave' purpose-built for the Wild Banks site.

Fish caves

'Fish caves' are structures that were purpose-built to withstand the local conditions at the Wild Banks site. They are fabricated from steel and stand 11 m high, 11 m wide and weigh 14.4 T.

The 'fish caves' were transported to the Wild Banks site by cargo vessel where they were lowered to the sea floor using a large crane. This was executed using a three point lift where each point was released using a floatation release system. A float was attached to the release hook exerting a vertical force on the hook. The weight of the 'fish cave' on the hook kept the hook closed until the 'fish cave' touched the sea floor. Once the 'fish cave' touched the bottom the hook was forced open by the greater vertical force from the floats.

A 'fish box'.

A 'fish box'.

Fish boxes

A 'fish box' is a hollow, 4 m3, 17 T cube with a cross brace made from re-enforced concrete. The 'fish boxes' were created from moulds with the concrete requiring 28 days to reach full strength. Twenty-five 'fish boxes' were constructed to create the North Moreton Artificial Reef and another 20 were created for the South Stradbroke site. The 'fish boxes' were deployed using the same floatation release system used for the deployment of the 'fish caves'.

More information

For more information on the artificial reef program, please contact the department.

For fisheries information contact the Department of Agriculture, fisherires and forestry.

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Last updated
17 December 2013