Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Thursday, 27 May 2010 15:27 UK

Is 'sub-standard' reef showing other benefits?

Aerial shot of Boscombe surf reef
The reef opened in November - a year late and double its original budget

By Michael Stoddard
BBC News Online

Bournemouth's long-awaited £3m artificial surf reef may have recently been rated as "sub-standard" in its ability to create the waves surfers had hoped for, but has it already started showing other benefits?

A number of fishermen in and around Boscombe believe the underwater construction is attracting more fish and marine life, while erosion experts say the structure will help protect the beach in years to come.

The reef was primarily created to improve surfing conditions using 55 sand-filled "geotextile bags" which are 225m (740ft) out to sea. But it has met with mixed reviews from surfers.

All reefs are an Oasis in a desert and attract life
Dr Ken Collins, National Oceanography Centre

But Plymouth University, which assessed the quality of waves enhanced by the underwater creation over six months, found the surf reef only achieved four of its 11 objectives.

The New Zealand-based creator, ASR Ltd, claims the reef has only failed to meet one of the criteria, wave lengths, since it opened in November a year late and double its original budget.

But other users believe it could already be revealing benefits beyond just bigger waves.

Richard Trim, who fishes over the reef on a canoe, said: "It is already covered in weed which seems to be attracting smaller creatures which in turn attract the fish which eat them.

"I have definitely been catching more bass, pollack and mackerel.

Boscombe pier
The refurbished pier is a magnet for fishermen and photographers

"It is a waste of money for what it has done for the surfers so at least something else may have come out of it."

Nick Dunn, from Bournemouth Fishing Lodge, said: "From what the anglers say, there does seem to be more fish attracted to the area."

Other fishermen, such as Phil Smith, are sceptical about the reports and believe fish numbers have recently been down.

He said: "This may well be down to the cold winter... but I also kayak fish and the catching of mackerel off the reef in any numbers right now is rubbish."

Coastal protection

The reef should eventually lead to more marine life and fish, according to Dr Ken Collins from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.

He said: "I have dived the reef a couple of times and I have been surprised and really amazed by the amount of seaweed, sea squirts and other marine life already down there.

"All reefs are an oasis in a desert and attract life, so whatever grows will attract fish that will pick them off.

Dr Ken Collins
Dr Collins said he was "amazed" at the amount of life attracted to the reef

"The thought was as the reef was in shallow water we wouldn't see a great deal, but that has not been the case."

His view has already been backed up by an initial study by the council and Bournemouth University which showed that marine life started colonising the reef soon after it was completed.

Another factor under close scrutiny is the effect on erosion.

An artificial reef built at Narrowneck on Australia's Gold Coast has had success as part of a campaign to protect the sandy beaches.

And Dr Collins believes Boscombe's reef will do similar things.

"The simple way of looking at it is that the waves hit the reef before the beach, hence protecting it more from erosion.

"When the idea of the reef was first discussed it was said to have the same erosion benefit as one groyne [breakwater] and there is no doubt it will have coastal protection values."

With the reef under such close scrutiny, the results of two studies into the effect on marine life by Bournemouth University and erosion by Southampton University are sure to be put under the microscope when they are received by the council in September.

Infographic showing artificial reef

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