RALEIGH, N.C. – This Tuesday, a 3-D printed artificial reef, designed to provide a thriving habitat for fish and other marine life, will be submerged in the brackish water of the Pamlico River near Bayview.

Eight years in the making, the joint effort, led by the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina together with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries represents a milestone in the use of adaptive infrastructure technology and promises an economic boost for the Beaufort County community.   

Raleigh-based Natrx, a global leader in the emerging field of nature-based adaptive infrastructure, designed and produced the concrete reef modules specifically for the local climate and river habitat. Using a new type of 3D printing technology called “dry forming,” the fabrication process creates naturalistic structures with curved surfaces and textures that are conducive to sustaining aquatic life. The crevices and holes in the sand and cement structures provide refuge for regionally important fish species such as striped bass and speckled trout. 

One hundred reef cubes, each measuring 3’ by 3’ and weighing roughly 1,850 pounds, will be transported by barge and deployed at the Bayview Artificial Reef site (AR-291), located approximately 100 yards off the shoreline near the mouth of Bath Creek. The docking location and viewing area can be accessed by media and visitors at 1907 Bayview Rd. in Bath.

The materials used in the reef modules are routinely used in marine applications and are known to attract oysters and mussels, as well as crustaceans, invertebrates and other organisms in the food chain. The objective is to improve biological productivity and establish a reproduction reservoir that can revitalize an entire ecosystem. Improving fish stocks also provides an economic boost to the community through increased recreational fishing. 

“This project reflects cutting-edge technology being used to not only sustain an important reef in the Pamlico River, but to also provide economic benefits to the community of recreational fishermen,” said David Sneed, CCA NC Executive Director. “Our mission is to advocate for North Carolina coastal resources, not only for those of us currently using them but also for future generations, so we’re always looking for new partnerships and opportunities to develop similar projects that enhance the health and viability of our fisheries.”

The Bayview reef site encompasses 1.8 underwater acres. The reef modules are spaced 10 feet apart in rows, with 40 feet between each row. The spacing allows for multiple boats to fish the area without crowding. The reef is a popular spot for local anglers and these improvements will help ensure the site endures for generations to come.

“Our hope is that this is just the beginning of an ongoing partnership with the NC DMF that will result in more habitat improvements in coastal North Carolina,” said Bobby Rice, CCA NC Board VP for Habitat. “We want to do our part to help improve our coastal ecosystem with the construction of more reefs, including oyster reefs and ARs for recreational anglers.”

Original efforts to establish an artificial reef on the site were made in 2012 and 2013 using concrete reef balls and pipe. Since 2014, led by the efforts of CCA NC chairman emeritus Billy Byrd, and the organization has been instrumental in planning and fundraising to improve the Bayview Reef. Natrx was brought on board in 2021, and with help from DMF Artificial Reef Coordinator Jordan Byrum, a proposal to deploy the new 3-D printed reef modules was approved. 

Natrx has earned worldwide attention for its innovation in nature-based, sustainable solutions designed to address challenges that environmental systems face, particularly in coastal regions. “Bayview is a terrific example of how adaptive infrastructure works,” said Leonard Nelson, CEO of Natrx. “These modules are designed for a variety of uses, including artificial fishing reefs, oyster reef restoration and shoreline protection.”

Bayview will be one of 25 estuarine artificial reefs maintained by the DMF. The department’s reef programs receive funding from the North Carolina General Assembly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration Program, the North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License Grant Program and from private donations.

Financial contributors and supporters of the Bayview Reef initiative include individual donors and corporate partners Grady-White Boats, Nutrien, Toadfish Outfitters, and the Building Conservation Trust. Deployment of the Natrx modules is funded by a USFWS Sportfish Restoration grant awarded to the Division of Marine Fisheries Artificial Reef Program. For CCA NC, the Bayview Reef is the latest restoration initiative to follow the success of the New River Oyster Highway, an oyster reef restoration project in partnership with the NC Wildlife Habitat Foundation and the City of Jacksonville, which was recently profiled in Outdoor Life magazine.