Lee County last week received a $120,000 grant to build an additional artificial reef to Chris Koepfer’s ARC Reef Site. These reefs attract hundreds of marine species, not only making for healthy ecosystems, but also popular fishing and diving locations.
“By putting down really complex, durable, stable structure and habitat, you get this beautiful succession of reef life to make it their home, Lesli Haynes, a Senior Environmental Specialist with Lee County.
Haynes says this grant will add 1000 tons of clean, repurposed concrete to the reef site. That concrete will be coming from catch basins no longer used in the City of Cape Coral. Instead of ending up in a landfill, that material will create a thriving ecosystem.
“Instead of going to the landfill, we can repurpose them and create these oases for fish and things to live in the marine environment,” said Haynes.
“We are looking for materials that are durable,” said Keith Mille, the Biologic Administrator with the Florida FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management-Artificial Reef Program. “They stay intact when they reach the bottom. They are going to be stable during storm events. And over the years we have had a number of hurricanes cross Florida in your area, Hurricane Charlie really helped us learn a lot about the performance of these materials during big storm events.”
These reefs create upwelling, trapping nutrients from the Gulf of Mexico and attracting baitfish, which then attracts bigger predators.
“They have increased opportunity for feeding and all the nooks and crannies from the complex structure make homes for other fish that hide, snappers and groupers that you will find up in there,” said Haynes. “They then have increased opportunities for spawning and reproduction success, so it is really about creating new stable complex habitat for just a wide variety of marine organisms.”
Once these reefs are established, they become hot spots for anglers and scuba divers. That creates major local economic opportunities. According to a 2011 study, artificial reefs create an economic output of $52 million annually, in just Lee County. That same study also showed a $22.5 million output in neighboring Charlotte County.
“You have people that are traveling to the area, and they want to go fishing or scuba diving and we are creating these destinations for people,” said Mille.
Mille says these reef destinations are perfect for anglers of all skills.
“It’s not like the old days where you have to navigate more carefully and really pay attention,” said Mille. “You can go straight, punch in these numbers. A lot of these new GPS units have side scan imagery so that even further helps with their experience for that particular site. Artificial reefs give people that immediate satisfaction that they are looking for.”
Florida fishing licenses help fund these programs. Mille says for every 25 cents of your fishing license, the federal government will give the state 75 cents. That money will then be used for projects so future generations can enjoy the environment around us.