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Good things come to those who bait

Anyone who has dangled a fishing line in the water will tell you, patience is a very important part of the process. But even the most ardent anglers wouldn’t wait six years to get a nibble.

But that’s exactly how long Western Australian fishing enthusiast Steve Riley had to persevere before he got a government grant to create an artificial reef in the Exmouth Gulf.

One year since the completion of what’s now known as King Reef, the artificial reef has grown from a ten species habitat, to providing habitat for more than ninety species including a baby Tiger shark.

“The reef has developed into a productive fishing hotspot with coral trout, mackerel and trevally turning up on the reef and providing fantastic fishing opportunities for the community in safe waters inside the Gulf.”

“I campaigned and advocated for the project for six years, knowing that a new reef in Exmouth would produce some great fishing for local and visiting tourists. With the support of the fishing club, the local community, Recfishwest and partners, our dream started to become a reality, the reef was built and deployed and now the rest is history,” Mr Riley said.

As well as being an avid fisherman, he owns the Exmouth Tackle and Camping Supplies.

As such Mr Riley has a unique appreciation of the benefits a substantial project like the reef provides local businesses and the community generally, as it becomes an increasingly popular tourist attraction.

A fellow angler encouraged him to have one last try at getting the money to create the reef. He was successful, securing $1 million in funding to install an artificial reef six kilometres off the shore in Exmouth Gulf.

King Reef is now the fastest-developing artificial reef in Australia and has really outshone everyone’s expectations with huge fish populations calling the reef home.

The reef is made up of 49 specially-built concrete structures, along with half a dozen massive steel modules, five metres high and ten metres long, donated by BHP.

The steel structures came from BHP’s Griffin oil and gas field, which used to operate more than sixty kilometres off the Exmouth coast.

“The modules were a vital part in making the reef the amazing success that it is today,” Steve Riley said.

From the outset, Steve Riley and all those who helped him wanted to create a habitat that anyone could easily access, not just big game boats.

“We wanted the reef to be located in the sheltered waters of the Exmouth Gulf, so it would always be easily accessible for small boat owners, families and kids,” he said.

“I wanted it somewhere where grandparents could take their grandkids easily and safely and that’s what we have ended up with.”

Installation of the reef was jointly funded by BHP, NERA, the State Government’s Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund, and community organisation Recfishwest. BHP and Recfishwest continue to deliver a citizen science program supporting the Exmouth community to collect data on the reef’s development that is then provided to Curtin University for analysis.

“It’s been the community who has arguably played the most significant role in this project,” Mr Riley said.

“We have around two dozen volunteers who regularly drop baited cameras down onto the reef to count the species and record its development.”

“It’s amazing to think that a little community town like ours can create something so massive and fantastic,” he said.