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New ‘fish condo’ off East Providence coast bustling with activity

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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — An 11,000-square-foot home has become one of the hottest pieces of real estate in Rhode Island, but you probably wouldn’t want to live there.

Its current residents are fish, and it’s located inside an artificial reef off the East Providence coast.

The man-made “fish condo” is now home to many different kinds of sea creatures, including shellfish, algae and several native fish species.

The once very polluted waters off Sabin Point Park in Riverside have become clean enough that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and The Nature Conservancy decided to construct an artificial reef.

“We didn’t know what we were going to find, but one year into it and we’re pleasantly surprised,” The Nature Conservancy’s John Torgan said.

The project began last year when 64 cement blocks were lowered into the waters by a crane on a barge.

Torgan described the cement blocks as looking like half whiffle balls. Each reef ball is 4 feet across with 17-24 holes in each. The blocks each weigh approximately 1,300 pounds.

“Over the course of four years, we’re going to study the effects of putting these reef balls down on the Providence River and Narragansett Bay,” Torgan said.

The goal of the project is to see what kinds of marine life come to take up residence. The 11,000-square-foot area was meant more to provide protection for baby fish, but all stages of aquatic life now call these cement blocks home.

“Within the first few weeks, we started to see algae and snails,” Torgan said.

A year later, divers found juvenile tautog swimming on the inside of the reef balls, juvenile cunner or ‘choggies’ looking for their next meal and an adult tautog resting in the safety of the reef.

This may not be the last time an artificial reef is built in these waters.

“This project is what we hope is a pilot that will encourage similar kinds of structures deployed in other areas of Rhode Island’s coastal waters,” Torgan said.

The $47,000 project was funded mainly by angler organizations, including the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Foundation.

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