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Artificial Reefing

photo of a diver and the USS spiegel groveUSNS VANDENBERG in 2015 was reefed by the Maritime Administration on May 27, 2009 and is the second-largest artificial reef in the world. Photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What is artificial reefing?

Artificial reefing is the process of intentionally and permanently sinking a vessel in a strategic location (typically a generally-featureless sea-floor) in order to catalyze and promote marine life. Artificial reefing: 

  • provides hard surfaces to which algae and invertebrates such as barnacles, corals, and oysters attach,
  • provides intricate structure and food for assemblages of fish, and
  • can improve hydrodynamics for surfing and reduce beach erosion.


The U.S. Maritime Administration Artificial Reef Program was established in 1972 under Public Law 92-402, which authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to transfer obsolete Liberty ships in the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) to States filing the appropriate application.

Originally, PL-92-402 provided that the transfer was at “at no cost to the federal government” and that the State take custody of the ship “as is, where is.” In 1984, PL-98-623 amended the law to include any National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) ship designated for recycling, then amended further in 2004 by PL-108-136 to allow MARAD to accept applications for artificial reefing projects from States, U.S. territories, and foreign governments in specific scenarios. MARAD also has the option to provide financial assistance for specific domestic reefing projects.

Eligibility & Application Process

Similar to our Ship Donation Program, MARAD does not target or set aside NDRF vessels for reefing. Organizations must apply to receive a specific vessels for artificial reefing. Not all ships are good reefing candidates. Applicants must work closely with MARAD to select a ship appropriate for the specific reefing project. Organizations must submit the application through the artificial reefing coordinator representing the state, U.S. territories, or organization in which the vessel will be reefed. Foreign artificial reefing applications must be submitted by the cognizant government authority for artificial reefing actions.

Environmental Compliance

MARAD is dedicated to staying compliant with federal environmental laws at all levels of operation. Artificial reefing requires adherance to EPA standards and take those laws into consideration when reviewing a state's reefing application.

The EPA provides a document of best management practices entitled “National Guidance: Best Management Practices for Preparing Vessels Intended to Create Artificial Reefs” (EPA842-B-06-002), designed to promote a consistent, nation-wide approach to preparing military and commercial vessels for artificial reefing projects. Specifically, it:

  • provides a basis for estimating the costs associated with the preparation of vessels for artificial reefing,
  • ensures that vessels sunk as artificial reefs will be prepared using environmentally-sound practices, and
  • includes measures that will make MARAD's Artificial Reefing Program a more attractive vessel disposal option


For questions about our Artificial Reefing, contact the Office of Ship Disposal Programs.