Posted by Kasey | 09.28.2023 | Conservation, Marine Science, Scuba Diving, Sea Turtle Camp, Sea Turtle Camp News

All About Artificial Reefs

18 miles offshore from Wrightsville Beach, you’ll find an oasis of life in an otherwise rocky and sandy desert. Laying upright in 85 feet of clear Atlantic waters exists the James F.C. Hyde, or Hyde as it’s known amongst locals. Covered in corals, sponges, and anemones, the Hyde now supports a vibrant ecosystem, existing as the home for Sand Tiger sharks, drum, amberjacks, snapper, southern stingrays, mantis shrimp, and many other marine species.

So how did it get there? 

USACE Hopper Dredge Hyde working Mare Island Channel, 12 August 1957. Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum

Unlike most of the shipwrecks in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”, Hyde was no accident. It began its life in 1945 as a US Army Corp of Engineers Dredge ship. It was 216 feet long and used its two hopper dredge pipes and nearly 3,000 horsepower to keep rivers and inlets open for US military ships during the Vietnam Conflict. After its service was completed, the Hyde was decommissioned in 1979. Nine years later, it went through a vigorous cleaning regiment in preparation for its next purpose: becoming a reef.

What is an Artificial Reef?

Artificial reefs are no new development. Archaeological evidence shows that the Ancient Persians created reefs to defend against attacks by blocking off vulnerable inlets. More recently, the first ecologically-based reefs were created in the 17th C. in Japan to grow kelp beds and increase fish yields.

Artificial reefs grew in popularity in the 1970s, evolving into a new method to promote coral growth. These can be made of various structures – aircraft, ships, cars, tires, and even the occasional kitchen appliance have found their way into warm ocean waters. These reefs have the classification as “human-made” (hence the name “artificial”). Not everything can become an artificial reef – these have to be built with the specific aim of promoting sea life in that specific area. Along with this promotion, they are also used to reduce beach erosion, maintain coasts, protect habitats, boost recreational activities such as fishing and diving, and increase the overall biotic diversity.

Diving the Ghost Fleet

As we mentioned, these reefs can take on multiple different forms and structures. Here in North Carolina, most of our reefs are shipwrecks. We’re located in an area called the “Graveyard of the

Atlantic” – shifting shoals of sand pose navigational risks to ships and mariners, claiming more than 5,000 ships since 1526. Because of this, we have a plethora of dive sites, all teaming with all forms of marine life. These artificial reefs – some intentional, others not – exist as safe havens for all types of species native to our coast. When a ship sinks, the new submerged structure provides a hard surface for algae, invertebrates (such as barnacles, corals, and oysters), and other sessile organisms to attach to. Smaller areas in the ship’s hull allow for perfect hiding spots for smaller species to hide. As time goes on, more and more corals, anemones, sponges, and crustaceans attach, causing a chain reaction of ecological growth.

The Hyde was “reefed” in 1988. In the following 35 years, it has grown into a thriving marine community.

Exploring the deck of the Hyde.

A school of Porgy with some Atlantic Spadefish inside the Hyde.

A reef-covered structure on the deck of the Hyde is excellent for swim-throughs!






The stern section of the Hyde.

A sand tiger shark, frequently seen at the Hyde.












Join us on the adventure of a lifetime to explore these reefs in person! All our SCUBA certification programs venture out into wreck diving. Check out our certification programs and find one that’s best for you!

-Mead Krowka, Program Coordinator