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How this retired Alabama Power equipment is helping fish thrive

Some decommissioned steam plant equipment from Alabama Power is getting new life as part of an artificial reef system in the Gulf of Mexico, helping to improve fish habitats in coastal waters.

On Nov. 9, the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) sunk package boilers recently retired as part of an upgrade project at Alabama Power’s Washington County Cogeneration facility. The boilers were secured aboard a decommissioned barge provided by Cooper/T. Smith (CTS).

“It was a big day,” said AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard. “This material was so big and so heavy you couldn’t deploy it off a traditional reef deployment vessel, so they (CTS) donated a 195-foot by 35-foot barge to give us the ability to put the Alabama Power Company equipment inside the barge, which increased the complexity of the reef from the standpoint of structure. That’s a good thing.”

Alabama Power retired equipment becomes artificial reef from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The reef deployment represents the end of a nearly two-year project organized by AWF and the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) to improve Alabama’s nearshore fishing habitats. Gov. Kay Ivey and ADCNR selected AWF in 2019 to come up with a plan to improve fishing habitats inside a 7.5-square-mile zone of ocean 8 miles south of Dauphin Island.

“This is part of an enormous plan to provide two key types of fisheries habitat: adult reef fish reefs and juvenile reef fish reefs,” Gothard said. “The water bottoms in the Gulf of Mexico – off of Alabama in particular – are relatively flat with no structure. By providing structure through artificial reefs, you provide habitat that can actually increase the productivity of the marine fishery within that zone.”

Since August 2020, AWF has coordinated 29 artificial reef deployments in the nearshore zone, two of which include Alabama Power equipment.

“What’s real unique about that is that Alabama Power Company was responsible for the first reef that we deployed in August of 2020 and the last reef in this project,” Gothard said. “Alabama Power was quick to come to the table, which set the example for others to help.”

This deployment marks the third artificial reef Alabama Power has supported with retired equipment. The first was in 2016 when Alabama Power provided a pair of boilers that had been taken out of service from plants in Washington and Mobile counties. The boilers were sunk aboard a decommissioned CTS barge about 25 miles south of the Sand Island Lighthouse. The artificial reef was found to be teeming with fish in early 2020.

“Alabama Power is very pleased to support the creation of our third artificial reef, in partnership with the Alabama Wildlife Federation, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Cooper/T. Smith,” said Alabama Power Environmental Affairs Vice President Susan Comensky. “These reefs sustainably repurpose retired boilers from our generating plants and create an ecosystem where aquatic species can thrive off the coast of Dauphin Island.”

RELATED: Artificial reef teeming with life in Gulf of Mexico

Gothard said the cooperation between the public and private sectors not only contributed to the success of the project but is also why discussions about creating more artificial reefs are underway.

“It’s a testament to the people that are in these different organizations that are passionate about the outdoors,” Gothard said. “Without that, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking today about 29 reefs being deployed in a 14-month period. Partnerships are the critical aspect to success.”

To learn more about all of Alabama’s artificial reefs, visit alreefs.com.