The Archaeological and Biological Analysis of World War II Shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico: A Pilot Study of the Artificial Reef Effect in Deep Water

Lead PI: Mr. Robert Church
This study is intended to approach one basic question: do man-made artificial structures or objects, i.e., shipwrecks, function as artificial reefs in deepwater? Although there is not yet a complete understanding of how artificial reefs function on the continental shelf, particularly in the photic zone above 100 m, it is generally accepted that artificial reefs can serve a positive function by the creation of new hard bottom habitat in areas where hard bottom is naturally lacking (most of the Gulf of Mexico). In the case of fish, artificial reefs can act both as attraction devices and as new habitat where new fish biomass is created and exported, meaning production. The fouling community growing on new hard bottom provided by artificial substrate is unquestionably new production for those organisms that require hard substrate. Although artificial structures alone do not add food or nutrients to the marine environment, the biofouling community may be very efficient in stripping both nutrients and suspended material from passing water and plankton and building a high standing stock community. The trophic linkages between the flux of organic material to deepwater fouling communities and potentially related fish communities have not been investigated. The ideal laboratory for this study exists in the Gulf of Mexico where 56 ships were sunk by German submarines during World War II, most within a few months of each other in 1942. Seven of these vessels, located during oil and gas surveys, were selected for this study because they represent a range of depths (from 400 feet to over 6,500 feet) and carried a variety of cargoes. In addition to the biological characterizations that will be conducted at each site, the vessels will be documented and studied as historic sites for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Number of Years: 2

Start Year: 2003

End Year:  2004


  • Minerals Management Service
  • NOAA Ocean Exploration
  • C&C Technologies
  • University of West Florida
  • Dauphin Island Sea Lab
  • Droycon Bioconcepts
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • The Past Foundation

FY 2004 PI Report