A construction crew last week expanded Carrabelle’s 10 Mile Reef system, further enhancing fishing and diving opportunities in and around Dog Island.
Alan Richardson, who chairs the Tallahassee-based non-profit Organization of Artificial Reefs group, said the deployment took place June 17 and 18, funded by a mix of state grants, matching funds and private donations.
The new reef components, named in memory of young men whose life were tragically cut short, expand to the south the 10 Mile Reef complex, about three miles offshore of Dog Island.
Origins of the reef date back to 1999 when a group of divers from Thomasville, Georgia created the Rose City Reef, the first in a complex series of smaller patch reefs that have grown over the years with additional portions, each named in the memory of a fishing or diving enthusiast who loved the Gulf waters.
The most recent of these, the popular "Robby's Reef" was christened in May, 2011, and includes a 12-ton metal sculpture. Costs are defrayed each year by supporters of the Robby Redding family, through a fundraising event on Robby's traditional birthday after Christmas.
Last week’s deployment included an enhancement of Robby’s Reef, which added another eight artificial reef units to the patch reef, as well as creation of the Dixon Camp memorial reef, about two-tenths of a mile further south of Robby's.
Both the Camp and Redding families of the St. Teresa Beach community lost sons at young ages and approached OAR early on about donating funds in order to memorialize them. OAR also had the support of the Thornal family, who lost their 19-year-old son Price last Easter in a tragic traffic accident.
Richardson said the deployment, conducted by Walter Marine, out of Orange Beach, Alabama, included three Super Reefs, large concrete and limestone prefabricated reef structures, that tower 15 feet above the Gulf sea floor in 60 feet of water. The placement of the Super Reef forms is framed with 10 eight-foot tall reef structures known as "Florida Specials,” which incorporate native Florida limestone as part of their makeup. All total, this project will utilize three Super Reefs, and 30 Florida Specials.
Walter Marine’s website says Florida Limestone rock is comprised of ancient clam shells and matches a natural reef in both PH and substrate. Used previously in boulder form for artificial reefs, Walter said it developed a patented process to embed the rock into the concrete reef surface, and that boring organisms that dwell on artificial reefs cannot survive on a concrete reef but easily make the Florida Limestone reef their home.
Richardson said the deployment costs about $125,000, paid for by a $55,000 grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Marine Fisheries’ Artificial Reefs Program; a $15,000 match from the city of Carrabelle that came from OAR; and about $47,000 in additional private donations.
Funds from the Big Bend Saltwater Classic have helped OAR complete its mission. State and federal funds come from a fee tacked on to recreational fishing licenses, and from excise taxes that people pay on boats, motors, tackle, and the like.
“We could not have been able to make this reef project a reality without the support of the city of Carrabelle, namely City Administrator Courtney Millender,” said Richardson. “The city appreciates the increased opportunities for tourism that a project of this magnitude brings. It has been reported that for every dollar spent in reef development, $138 in tourism dollars are returned back to the coastal communities.”
The state grant came after more than $1 million in requests came in for a half-million dollars in available grant funds, and Franklin and Wakulla counties each received $55,000.
The project envisioned for the City of St. Marks is a realignment and enlargement of the St Marks Reef, first deployed in 1964. OAR, through the City of St. Marks, will be deploying over 75 prefab reef modules in a depth of 20 feet, and is also matching $15,000 for this effort. “OAR has submitted the grant paperwork to the FWC, and we are currently moving this project through the proper channels,” said Richardson.
He said re-permitting the reef expansion, after the original permit expired in 2011, was a lengthy process, but OAR eventually secured approval form the Army Corps of Engineers. “It took three years to re-permit,” Richardson said. “That’s the hardest part, dealing with the Corps. They’re awful.”
He said OAR had hoped to secure a contractor from Florida, but only Walter Marine, the largest deployer of artificial reefs in the nation, bid. “There’s nobody in our area that’s doing this,” said Richardson.
He said OAR, a completely volunteer group, is working with marine enthusiasts in Apalachicola to expand the reef off of George Island to the eats of Bob Sikes Cut, and perhaps one in shallower water off of Apalachicola. “We got to get it permitted and it takes forever,” Richardson said.
He said they are also trying to permit a reef in shallower waters off Dog Island, perhaps in 25 to 30 feet deep waters.
“It would be closer to shore for smaller boats,” Richardson said. “A lot of people are downsizing and fuel costs are so much. We’re targeting more inshore activity.”
He said by building one off Apalachicola in state waters, there would be more snapper habitat closer to shore, and fishermen could take advantage of a longer state season for the prized food fish.
“We have to make sure were not in shrimpers lanes, or sea turtle habitat,” Richardson said. “We have to go through all the permitting obstacles.”
While artificial reefs are popular with divers and fishermen, they are not without their detractors. Some, such as the Ocean Conservancy, oppose their construction, contending that they exacerbate problems with overfishing by concentrating large populations of fish in one area. In addition, they argue that there are too many question marks as to the effect these structures have on the marine environment.
Where the reefs are
Pre deployment coordinates for the new reefs are:
Latitude North 29 39.169
Longitude West 084 30.000
Latitude North 29 39.229
Longitude West 084 30.000
Latitude North 29 39.390
Longitude West 084 30.000