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New reefs expand easy-to-reach fishing spots

By Frank Stephenson Special to the Times

Saltwater anglers now have two brand new reasons to appreciate the efforts of the Tallahassee-based Organization for Artificial Reefs.

Last week, the non-profit group completed construction of two artificial fish havens within easy striking distance of local marinas and boat ramps.

The barge prepares to unload its concrete cargo in the water to form the artificial reefs.

The first site was completed on Aug. 19 and is located roughly nine miles south of Ochlockonee Bay, sitting in 30 feet of federal water. Named in memory of the late William Glen Peel, a Shell Point native who died in a scuba diving accident in 2017, the new reef site is located near the federally maintained Marker 24 buoy.

Alan Richardson, OAR coordinator, said that roughly 310 tons of concrete material - primarily the remains of the now renovated Port Panacea dock - was deployed in four discrete spots marking all four corners of the reef permit site. Divers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Artificial Reef Program were on site and inspected the material deployed onto the seabed.

The barge crane drops one of the concrete structures soon to be bustling with fish.

The following day, Richardson’s team of OAR volunteers supervised the deployment of 42 precast concrete “reef balls” of various types and sizes on a site named St. Teresa Patch Reef. Reef balls are designed to mimic natural habitat for a wide variety of sea organisms ranging from marine algae to bottom-dwelling fish such as grouper. In recent years, the balls have become internationally popular among reef-building organizations and other marine conservation groups.

This new reef-ball reef is located in state waters roughly eight miles south-southeast of Lanark Marina. Each ball was lowered into place by a crane operator working in four corners of the site which sits in roughly 35 feet of water.

The St. Teresa Patch Reef was formed of 42 precast concrete “reef balls” of various types and sizes.

As is the case each time OAR builds a reef, the actual deployment operation represents a culmination of months, and more often years, of strategic planning and prodigious paperwork.

Richardson said OAR began work on the Glen Peel Memorial Reef in 2017. An initial step typically calls for OAR’s specially trained dive team to search for and identify suitable sites for reef construction.

Suitable areas must be free of communities of living sea life, such as coral and sponges, and must exhibit a solid foundation, typically showing shallow layers of sand covering limestone bedrock. OAR also goes to extensive efforts to coordinate with commercial shrimpers to avoid any conflicts with trawling operations, Richardson said.

Once a site is found, OAR works on behalf of local government entities to apply for grants from the FWC. Special reef-building grants, which represent funds derived primarily from federal taxes on such items as saltwater fishing licenses and tackle sales, are annually available for non-profit groups such as OAR throughout Florida but must be administered through a city or county government.

The Glen Peel Memorial Reef project was run through the Wakulla County commission whereas the St. Teresa project was sponsored by the city of Carrabelle. Richardson said that OAR is set up as a prime source for the expertise and manpower required for reef-grant permitting and grants-writing work and is available to all local governments at no cost.

Contracting for the deployment work for the two recent projects was Coleen Marine, a North Carolina-based company that maintains a satellite office in Wewahitchka. OAR’s grant proposals for $60,000 for each of the projects won approval from the FWC last year.

Incorporated in 1985 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, OAR has now built dozens of reefs off Wakulla and Franklin counties. Richardson said that he and his team are working with the newly formed Apalachicola Artificial Reef Association in that organization’s efforts to replicate OAR’s success for waters directly off Apalachicola.

Research continues to show the positive benefits of reef construction for both marine life and marine-based economies throughout the world, Richardson said.

Frank Stephenson can be reached at fh1stephenson@gmail.com

Clip and save

Anglers and divers! Clip and save these coordinates for the two new OAR reefs. Look for more detailed information soon to be posted on OAR’s website at http://oarreefs.org/

Glen Peel Memorial Reef

2950.421 8409.476

2950.315 8409.471

2950.324 8409.345

2950.419 8409.360

St. Teresa Patch Reef

2947.105 8427.927

2947.165 8427.993

2947.100 8428.060*

2947.043 8427.990

*unverified