In the Gulf of Mexico, from oil rigs to fish havens (pictures)
All around the Gulf, old oil rigs have been transformed into marine habitats. CNET Road Trip 2014 dives deep under the surface to check out the Rigs to Reefs program.
Barracuda and the reef
FLOWER GARDEN BANKS, GULF OF MEXICO -- Ever wondered what happens to an oil rig when it's no longer producing? Since 1990, 450 in the Gulf of Mexico have been transformed into artificial reefs as part of a series of state-run programs known as Rigs to Reefs.
Thanks to the programs, which are run in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida, the oil companies donate the rigs rather than tow them back to shore, and also donate half their cost savings.
As part of CNET Road Trip 2014, I traveled more than 100 miles into the Gulf to check out one of the rigs -- technically known as a production platform -- from 100 feet below the surface, where thousands of fish, including this barracuda, have a comfortable home.
Most of the decommissioned rigs have their platforms severed, and only begin at 85 feet below the surface. This rig, technically known as a production platform, is the High Island 389. Owned by W&T Offshote, it's under consideration for donation to the Texas Rigs to Reefs program. As of today, it has not had its platform severed but it is considered officially idle.
It's estimated that each of the artificial reefs in the program can be home to between 12,000 and 14,000 fish. The High Island 389, while not yet part of the program, is already home to teeming marine life.
The average decommissioned oil rig has piles -- legs -- that go down 200 feet or more below the surface. The High Island 389, which is not yet part of the Rigs to Reefs program, goes down 300 feet, and fish can be found all the way down -- though most of those depths are below the range of recreational scuba divers.