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Buddy Ward Memorial Artificial Reef approved

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times
The Apalach Times

The first artificial reef to be created, in state waters just offshore of St. George Island, in more than 35 years will soon arrive.

Grayson Shepard, president of the newly-formed Apalachicola Artificial Reef Association, told county commissioners Tuesday morning the Buddy Ward Memorial Artificial Reef site has received approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers, setting the stage to move forward in creating it in the months ahead.

The OK from the feds is the last piece of a string of state approvals that have included the blessing of both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The one-nautical mile square site, just inside state waters and in sight of St. George Island, is approximately eight nautical miles offshore at a bearing 166 degrees from the Bob Sikes Cut. Shepard said approval of the permit clears the way for grants and other fundraising by the not-for-profit AARA,.

“We want to serve as your arm for doing these artificial reefs,” Shepard told commissioners. “”OAR (Organization of Artificial Reefs) has been doing this on the east side of the county. We’re going to kind of be the western component.

“You guys are the permit holder, but we’re going to be your folks to do the dirty work,” he said.

Shepard said the initial anticipated materials include artificial reef modules, recycled concrete culverts and other approved reef material, along with memorials. He said families often like to donate in order to memorialize their loved one with a reef component that features a small brass plaque.

In addition to seeking private donations, the AARA hopes to qualify for grants available from the CCA (Coastal Conservation Association), FWC and others. “We’re working on getting funds for do this, maybe some matching fund potential,” he said. “But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Shepard said the Franklin Reef, to the east, created in 1983, is about 20 miles from the L-Buoy Reef that was added about 16 years before that, and that the Ward Reef is situated between those two.

All three are located inside the nine nautical mile state water boundary, making them accessible to smaller boats that fish inshore, and which usually do not hold the expensive permit that enables them to fish in federal waters that begin nine miles offshore.

“This new site is killing a lot of different birds with one pile of rocks,” Shepard said. “A 20-foot boat can get out there on a good calm day, and at 40 feet deep, it’s easy for free divers. It’s going to be a win-win for everybody.

“With differing state and federal fishing regulations, the need for more fishing locations within state waters, in proximity of Bob Sikes Cut, has become apparent,” he said. “The AARA hopes to deploy the first reef material within the year.

“At some point we’re going to put one out in deeper water,” Shepard said. “Right now we’re really focused on this one.”

Shepard said the AARA has a dive team that will meet the requirements of doing trash pick-up on the site, and that the plan is to move forward now with securing fill items.

“We want to put out as much stuff as we possibly can as quickly as possible,” he said, noting that AARA is in talks to use an OAR barge now docked in Carrabelle.

“They don’t have a site suitable for it,” he said. “We’re going to work with them to get that barge.”

The new reef will attract a wide variety of fish such as grouper and snapper, along with migratory fish like king mackerel and cobia. The AARA hopes to increase fishing and diving opportunities in the area, thus boosting its economic value to the community.

The AARA is an all-volunteer not-for-profit 501c3 entity, whose board also includes vice-president Tommy Robinson, treasurer Mark Friedman and secretary Kathy Robinson. For more information, visit www.apalachicolareef.org.