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SW Florida Welcomes New Artificial Reef Building Project

Posted by Benjamin Dona on Friday, April 18th, 2014 at 9:49am.

SW Florida Welcomes New Artificial Reef Building ProjectThey have rather unusual names like Sparky Lee's Hole, Houla Dog and Dean-O Hicks Reef. These are just a few of the artificial reefs off Collier and southern Lee County's coastlines that aren't necessarily able to be found via a GPS coordinate. Many have been tossed and buried by hurricanes and the larger than normal waves that over time have just pounded them into submission.

Now, thanks to more than $1.3 million in various grants from BP’s Gulf Tourism and Seafood Promotional Fund, the local Collier County governmental agencies and the Community Foundation of Collier County and the Economic Recovery Task Force have joined together to oversee the start of one of the world’s largest artificial reef projects: six 500-ton reefs, many the size of football fields, each containing six smaller pyramid-shaped reef modules that will be 8 to 12 feet tall. Basically, it will be 18,000 tons of recycled and donated concrete, sunken in multiple locations from 12 to 30 miles off shore.

The project is expected to launch diving as a tourism industry in SW Florida and attract high-dollar fishing tournaments that will be promoted nationally. It is also expected to bring into the area $30 million over the coming years by boosting eco-tourism, hotel stays, dining, boating, fishing and diving trips, to name just a few of the potential revenue makers, according to statistics extrapolated from a 2011 University of Florida Sea Grant report.

"The benefits of a project of this scale and importance are far-reaching, both environmentally and economically," said Naples attorney Peter Flood, a fisherman who approached the task force with the idea in 2011. "Fish have to have structures to live in and we need to increase our fish population. It will have an economic impact on the community by attracting more tourism," no question about it."

Tax-deductible donations in the amount of $100,000 to the non-profit foundation by a person, family or business will provide the donor with the opportunity to name one of the six projected quarter-mile wide by quarter-mile long reefs. There are only going to be 6 naming opportunities of this type available. If you can afford it, it will be quite a legacy to have, as the reefs are expected to last up to 900 years. If you can’t afford $100,000, a $2,500 donation will earn your name being added to one of the plaques being placed on the smaller reefs. There’s no limit to those type of naming opportunities.

Since last year, "contractors have delivered more than 5,000 tons of culvert pipes, sidewalks, limestone boulders, concrete chunks and benches to the landfill," said county Solid & Hazardous Waste Department employee Angel Rodriguez, the reef materials collection team project manager. Those items will become part of the reefs. Florida Power & Light, a corporate sponsor, delivered more than 100 40-foot concrete light poles, he said, adding that other contractors can arrange to drop off concrete or limestone materials that are at least 500 pounds and 3 to 6 feet. "The more, the merrier," Rodriguez said. "There’s no taxpayer money going into this project."

Man, this whole thing is just too cool of an addition for our local SW Florida waters. We can't wait for this to happen and for the reefs to take hold. Many fish species are known to start congregating very shortly (some within hours) after an artificial reef is begun. It should make an already great off shore fishing experience even more fantastic. And the divers are going to just go nuts over it! There's just so little here in terms of really good diving opportunities. The World War II-era Coast Guard cutter USS Mohawk was dropped 28 miles off Fort Myers Beach in July 2012. Flood said "that $4 million project is expected to last only 85 years, due to the saltwater deterioration of the vessel's structure, but this new project's life expectancy is in the range of 800-900 years."

Boy, it's great living in paradise! Being a fisherman or a diver is just an added benefit. With the addition of these new artificial reefs, it will be even more enjoyable to call SW Florida home.

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