What's Happening with the Old Harbor Island Bridge?

In its second life, the old Harbor Island Bridge will become a part of the South Carolina Memorial Reef, the only managed deepwater artificial reef on the East Coast!

A view of the old Harbor Island Bridge from the new bridge. Photo by Norma Cooler.

Senator George “Chip” Campsen spearheaded the efforts to repurpose the old swing drawbridge into offshore artificial reefs that could enhance saltwater fisheries and boost sport fishing tourism for the state’s coastal economy. He teamed up with the board of the S.C. Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series to raise funds to acquire the old bridge from its owner.

“We approached Mr. Jim Tripplet, who’s the owner of the company that built the bridge, about not selling the bridge for scrap but to set it on a barge, take it offshore, sink it, and create an artificial reef,” said Senator Campsen.

The steel superstructure of the old bridge will be welded to a barge and then sunk 52 miles offshore between Charleston Harbor and St. Helena Sound at the South Carolina Memorial Reef. This is a designated 4-by-6-mile area roughly 300 to 450 ft deep where other structures have already been sunk. It’s one of many artificial reefs managed by the Marine Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), but it’s the only deepwater artificial reef on the Atlantic Coast.

Underwater, the old bridge will quickly become covered with algae, barnacles, corals, sponges, and other marine organisms that created the basis of a food chain for new marine ecosystems. The structure also creates a safe haven for fish to spawn, live, and seek protection from larger predators, giving species of concern that live at the bottom, like grouper and snapper, an opportunity to recover. Larger pelagic fish that hunt along the surface are drawn to the area, attracting trophy fish for anglers, like tuna, marlin, sailfish, mahi-mahi, and wahoo.

sc memorial reef
Here’s the location of the S.C. Memorial Reef where the old Harbor Island swing bridge will be sunk. Map: S.C. Memorial Reef


“I’ve been offshore many times going over these reefs and you look at the sounder and it’s like a column of baitfish coming from the bottom that may be 100 feet or 150 feet tall that are congregating around the structure,” said Senator Campsen. “That attracts the big pelagic predator, like billfish, wahoo, and mahi-mahi.”

Senator George “Chip” Campsen is an avid offshore fisherman who participates in the S.C. Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series. His team set a new record for most points scored catching billfish in 2019. The senator is also the chairman of the Fish, Game, and Forestry Committee.

“In the future, I convinced DOT that they’re going to retain ownership of the bridge with a superstructure like this bascule bridge so that we can add to our artificial reef system,” said the senator.

The other concrete parts of the old Harbor Island Bridge are likely to be sunk roughly 5 to 10 miles offshore of St. Helena Sound to create a nearshore artificial reef, but those plans are still in the works. Demolition of the old bridge begins this week.