St. Lucie County Artificial Reef Program Update: June 2016

Cleared port deck. PHOTO CREDIT: St. Lucie County.
Cleared port deck. PHOTO CREDIT: St. Lucie County.

The St. Lucie County Artificial Reef Program, assisted by volunteers, continues to prepare the Tug Kathleen for deployment this summer.  Cleanup will be thorough in order to prevent potential pollutants from entering Treasure Coast waters.

Nearly 20 cubic yards of floatable material have been removed since April. Most of this material has been wood, while some of the items have been plastic, metal or dust. Most of the upper decks have been cleared to reveal a vessel of high complexity that will provide habitat for a wide number of fish species.

Phase two of the cleanup will entail lifting heavy objects off the Kathleen with McCulley Marine Services’ Molly, a 46-foot ex-U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender with a steel A-frame and hydraulic winches.  Heavier materials on the vessel include manifold pipes, a steel sheet, winches and generators. After heavier materials are removed from the Kathleen, volunteers will once again descent upon the boat to remove lighter materials and remove peeling paint.

Phase three of the cleanup will require all doors and hatches to be welded open. Additional materials, like glass windows and rubber fenders, will also be removed.  The tugboat will then be moored at a dock with a crane heavy enough to lift the remaining generators, engines, and other heavy objects.

The interior of the Kathleen will be steam cleaned to remove dirt and debris that has been left over from nearly 60 years of active work. Once the tug is cleaned, McCulley Marine Services will load clean secondary concrete into the vessel so that it will be stable at shallower depths.

The tugboat will be deployed in depths of 120 feet to 150 feet, depending on a stability analysis.  With about 30 feet of profile, the Kathleen will offer more opportunities to a wider range of boat sizes if it can be sunk in water shallower than 150 feet.  Over the last 6 years, 11 of 16 deployments occurred on the relatively shallow Lee E. Harris Memorial Site, making it pretty easy to select the deeper Fort Pierce Sportfishing Club Site for this summer’s deployments, including the Tug Kathleen.

St. Lucie County will then develop a float plan in conjunction with McCulley Marine Services and SeaRover Services for submittal to the U.S. Coast Guard.  Once the float plan is approved we will wait for Mother Nature to allow us to deploy.

The diversity of fish species encountered on artificial reefs in this depth range (e.g. red snapper, scamp, gag, amberjack, etc.) also made this selection easier.  It is hoped that April Price’s 501(c)3, Sea-life Habitat Improvement Project (SHIP), will find funds to sink a larger vessel in deeper waters off the Treasure Coast.  A large vessel deployed in deeper water deployment would:

  • Benefit fish species normally seen only at these depths (i.e. Warsaw grouper)
  • Benefit shallower water and pelagic fish species on the upper decks and superstructure.
  • Benefit the deepwater coral, Oculina varicosa, which would also be likely to recruit on vessels deployed deeper than 150 feet.
  • Act as both a fishing and diving destination for multiple boats to help the economy and ecotourism
  • Possibly act as a spawning location for deepwater fish species

The St. Lucie County Artificial Reef Program is also looking for a non-profit organization or water-related business to auction off naming rights for the new reef.  If anyone is interested in obtaining naming rights for the Tug Kathleen reef or other information about the St. Lucie County Artificial Reef Program please contact Jim Oppenborn, St. Lucie County Coastal Resources Supervisor at or (772) 462-1713.