NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — The Jim Caudle Reef, which marked its 10th anniversary this year, is continuing to grow with the recent addition of more armored vehicles to what already is one of the state’s largest artificial reef sites.
“There are 45 artificial reefs in South Carolina, and we’re the most visited,” Ron McManus, president and founder of the Jim Caudle Reef Foundation, said Wednesday. “It’s an ongoing project, and it will keep growing.”
The Caudle Reef, or PA-01, is part of a reef system that brings $83 million to the state each year and creates jobs in the areas where they are located, said Robert Boyles, deputy director for marine resources for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. It began as the least visited reef in the state, at only 40,000 cubic feet, but has grown to more than 650,000 cubic feet and has been visited by 200,000 fishermen and divers.
McManus and his wife, Kathy McManus, began the reef project in 2003 in memory of their friend and fellow fisherman Jim Caudle, McManus said. They had planned to mark the anniversary in August, but the weather wasn’t clear enough for the barge to go out and drop the vehicles, he said.
The Army National Guard contributed 40 armored personnel carriers, which were added to two reefs in September, McManus said. Twenty vehicles were dropped at the Caudle Reef, which is 2.7 nautical miles off Little River, and the other 20 were dropped at another reef that is located 12 miles out, he said.
“We had two choices when we adopted the reef, an inshore or an outshore reef,” said McManus, saying the state needs artificial reefs because it doesn’t have as many natural sea rocks as the coastal states to the north. “We picked the inshore reef because it gave anybody a chance to visit on a good day in whatever size boat they felt comfortable in, and I think that’s why it is the most visited.”
The reef contains a variety of structures, from hundreds of concrete cones to barges, a concrete mixer and tons of concrete rubble. The National Guard’s surplus vehicles come from Arkansas, where they are taken when they are no longer serviceable, but the thickness of the armor makes it unfeasible to have them cut up and sold or recycled, McManus said. The Guard recycles the engine parts and cleans out the motors and lines before sending the vehicles on to a new home in the ocean.
The reef is supported not only by state and government entities, but also by local businesses, volunteers and Coastal Carolina University, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in marine science, and will launch its new PhD program in marine science next year.
Marine science students use the reef for research and did sonar mapping of the sea floor as one of their first projects, said Paul Gayes, CCU’s director of the School of Coastal and Marine Systems Science. The Jim Caudle Reef Foundation has established an endowment at CCU, which is about $60,000, and Gayes said those funds allow students to develop their own ideas and experiments. Research projects include the effects of large, breaking waves during storms, which will help determine how to build wind farms, which in turn creates industry, he said.
The university will be getting a new state-of-the-art research vessel next month, and it will spend a lot of time in Little River and Georgetown, Gayes said. While the marine science program takes students and staff around the world, from California to the Arctic and beyond, he said 90 percent of what they do is here at home.
“This is quite a significant place these days, and this community is really forward-thinking,” Gayes said. “We’re doing better science so leaders can make better decisions, and information can get into the public discussion.”
McManus said the reef also is good for the environment, as it attracts fish that keep the water clean.
“It’s just a real good program,” he said. “I never dreamed it would be this good.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.