Outdoors column: Three-Mile Reef continues to grow

The reef’s official names are Paradise Reef or PA-9, but it has long been known by locals and visitors as the Three-Mile Reef, obviously due to its location 3 miles east of the Murrells Inlet jetties.

After years, even decades, of no structure being added to the original reef site, the reef has had large amounts of structure added in the last 11 years.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Murrells Inlet Rotary Club, the trend of building up the Three-Mile Reef has continued.

On June 25, more structure in the form of 20 reef cones and 50 large pieces of concrete culvert pipe made at Ready Mix Concrete in Myrtle Beach were put in place on the reef.

The reef is one of 45 in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Marine Artificial Reef Program.

Bob Martore, S.C. DNR Artificial Reef Coordinator, notes that each reef site is one large area permitted to receive artificial reef material but patch reefs can be established within the permitted area in honor of individuals or by organizations.

The newest addition is the Murrells Inlet Rotary Club Reef, in recognition of the fund-raising the club did in helping obtain the material that was dropped.

The Murrells Inlet Rotary Club Reef is the fifth such patch reef that has been placed on the Three-Mile Reef site.

First, 100 reef cones were dropped on the site in 2003 in recognition of a deceased long-time Myrtle Beach and Murrells Inlet resident, establishing the H.P. Springs Jr. Artificial Reef.

The Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Reef features a variety of items from numerous drops including reef cones, a 65-foot deck barge loaded with concrete pipe and, the biggest structure of all, armored personnel carriers.

The Winston Perry Memorial Reef consists of 92 pieces of concrete culvert pipe ranging in size from 18 to 36 inches in diameter and weighing between 400 and 800 pounds each dropped in 2010. The late Perry was founder of Perry’s Bait & Tackle in Murrells Inlet.

More concrete culvert pipe structure was added to make up the Bob Hampton Reef in October, 2012. The late Hampton, who personally made a significant contribution to the S.C. DNR Artificial Reef Program before his death, was a long-time Surfside Beach resident and member of the Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Association.

The reef site, or permitted area, covers one-quarter mile by one-half mile in size and with so much structure added in recent years, one would think space for material is filling up quick. Not so, says Martore, not even close.

“It sounds like there’s a lot of material but you can motor around out there and still find a lot of empty space,” said Martore. “It’s only about 5 percent full, it’s hard to believe I know, but it’s true.”

During this May and June, the Three-Mile Reef produced very good numbers of cobia, perhaps the ultimate fish that can be caught on near-shore artificial reefs.

The reef is also well-known as a very good spot for holding Spanish mackerel, black sea bass, spadefish, weakfish, flounder and sheepshead, along with a strong population of sharks.

“This year more so than in the past, we’ve had a lot of cobia on our reefs,” said Martore. “It’s a pretty productive area, even though it gets a lot of usage. As long as we keep building it up, it should continue to do well.”