Reef building begins off Brevard coast
Ted Lund For FLORIDA TODAY4:17 p.m. EDT August 8, 2015
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Friday’s deployment of more than 72 tons of man-made artificial reef modules off the Space Coast was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work between several fishing-related nonprofits and Brevard County.
Although the Florida Sport Fishing Association has had an active reef building program in cooperation with the Canaveral Port Authority for the past decade, Friday’s efforts marked the first time since 1986 that Brevard County government has been actively involved in reef building.
“We’ve had a great partner in creating artificial reefs in the Canaveral Port Authority,” says FSFA Artificial Reef Director Scott Chandler. “We’ve worked with them to help create some of the most productive artificial sites along the East Coast, including the popular culverts, located 17 miles northeast of Port Canaveral.”
But while the club’s efforts are ongoing with the CPA, Chandler wanted to see Brevard County develop a robust reef-building program of its own. The FSFA found a willing partner in Brevard’s Boating and Waterways Coordinator, Matt Culver.
“We started working with the county just after the 2004 hurricane season,” Chandler says. “The FSFA was involved in a number of cleanup projects for derelict vessels overseen by Brevard County.”
Several of the derelict vessels, including concrete- and metal-hulled vessels, were ideal for reef use. But first, they had to be decontaminated to make sure they didn’t pose a threat to marine life or the environment.
“We’re always on the lookout for approved materials, and sometimes they can be really hard to find,” Chandler says. “But we were able to get these ready and deploy them on the culvert site. Now I see more people fishing there than fish the natural bottom along the 27-fathom ridge.”
Brevard’s Culver sees benefits of the project not just for fish, but also for anglers and scuba divers.
“The areas that we are building these artificial habitats are just flat, sandy plains,” Culver says. “We’re creating habitat for baitfish, which will, in turn, attract predators. By doing so, we’ll help create more opportunities for fishermen and divers. And that translates into more gear, more gas, more boats and more business.”
In addition to Spanish sardines, thread herring and blue runners, club officials hope the new reef will attract red and mangrove snapper, as well as gag grouper. Pelagic species like king mackerel, wahoo, dolphin and blackfin tuna could also find themselves in the mix.
But Friday’s deployment, which took place a little more than 15 miles east of Canaveral just inside Pelican Flats in about 75 feet of water, was the result of a long, labor-intensive — and expensive — process.
The Brevard Reef area — covering 4.4-square miles and nearly 3,000 acres — needed to be resurveyed and repermitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before any additional materials could be added. In hopes of helping the county develop an ongoing reef program, the FSFA and several other groups stepped in to fund the $15,000 survey and start the permitting process three years ago. The FSFA and Central Florida Offshore Anglers each contributed $5,000; the remaining $5,000 came from the Brevard County Tourism Development Council with the goal of boosting recreational fishing and diving opportunities.
Once the survey and permitting was complete, it came time to seek grant money for materials. Culver oversaw that process through his office and the result was a $60,000 reimbursement grant awarded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, using funds provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But the fundraising didn’t stop there.
“Generally, with any of these projects, we like to have about 10 percent of the total on hand in matching funds,” Chandler says. “So FSFA, CFOA and the Coastal Conservation Association each contributed $2,000 toward the final deployment.”
Now they had the money, but no material.
“As I mentioned, we’re always on the lookout for appropriate materials,” Chandler says. “But this time we didn’t have any, so we started investigating purchasing some of these man-made modules.”
After soliciting bids, the group settled on Fort Pierce-based McCulley Marine. The $60,000-price tag included 24 of the hollow, triangular structures fabricated from marine-grade concrete. Each module has a 10-square-foot footprint, and several holes on the sides and top to allow fish, sea turtles and other sea creatures to enter and exit at will. A wire boom set the 8-foot-tall, 6,000-pound structures on the bottom in a grid pattern with a 20-foot interval. The location of each structure was captured by a remotely triggered GPS upon release. The total area of the reef will be about 7,700 square feet.
“McCulley was able to provide the modules, transportation and deployment for that amount,” Chandler says. “We were supposed to go last Wednesday, but the barge was coming back from another country and got held up in customs. So we had to move it to Friday.”
The Brevard Reef site is up for resurvey in two years, but Chandler doesn’t think it will take that long to see an impact.
“We had divers in the water within three hours of our last deployment at the culverts, and they were already seeing fish starting to move in,” Chandler says. “They should be able to start producing regularly within six months or so. We’re in the process of working out an arrangement with a local university to monitor the sites in addition to our own divers. We should have a pretty good idea of how things are going.”
Chandler said the goal is to continue working with the CPA and Brevard County to deploy reefs on a regular basis.
“If we can find the money, we’d like to do it every year,” says Chandler, “and just help the fishing and diving get better and better.”
To learn more about the FSFA and its innovative artificial reef and education programs, visit www.fsfaclub.org.
Ted Lund is a freelance writer born and raised on Florida’s Space Coast. He operates the outdoor blog tedlund.com. If you have a story you’d like covered, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Brevard Reef coordinates
Specific coordinates for the eight different clusters of reef modules will be made available to members of the FSFA at fsfaclub.org and members of the CFOA at mycfoa.com. The starting point for the new Brevard/FSFA/CFOA artificial reef is:
28 24 .0852 N
80 18 .4604 W
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