Artificial reefs are only allowed in national marine sanctuaries after an extensive evaluation and permitting process to ensure that sanctuary resources will not be harmed by development of the reef
In general, development of artificial reefs is not allowed within national marine sanctuaries due to regulations that prohibit placing items or depositing materials on the seafloor. However, within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, four ships have been permitted to sink since sanctuary regulations became effective in 1997.
Research suggests that artificial reefs may have a positive impact on the local economy by increasing diving, snorkeling, and fishing-related revenues. Artificial reefs may also draw divers from natural coral reefs, thereby reducing pressure on those sensitive habitats.
Despite the potential benefits of artificial reefs, creating a successful reef requires more than just placing random materials on the seafloor. Ensuring that the desired benefits of the reef are reached requires planning, long-term monitoring, and evaluation. Improperly planned, constructed, or managed artificial reefs may damage natural habitats, alter species composition, impede navigation, and cause conflict amongst users groups.
Establishment of artificial reefs within the sanctuary has happened only after an extensive review and permitting process conducted via Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in concert with other local, state, and federal agencies. This process was required to ensure that the reef is not detrimental to the resources that the sanctuary protects.