Lee County last week received a $120,000 grant to build an additional artificial reef at Chris Koepfer’s ARC Reef site. These reefs attract hundreds of marine species, creating not only healthy ecosystems, but also popular fishing and diving spots.
“By putting in place a really complex, durable and stable structure and habitat, you get this beautiful succession of reef life to call home,” Lesli Haynes, Lee County Senior Environmental Scientist.
Haynes says this grant will add 1,000 tons of clean, reused concrete to the reef site. This concrete will come from catch basins that are no longer used in the city of Cape Coral. Instead of ending up in a landfill, this material will create a thriving ecosystem.
“Instead of going to landfill, we can reuse them and create these oases for fish and things to live in the marine environment,” Haynes said.
“We are looking for materials that are sustainable,” said Keith Mille, the biological administrator for the Florida FWC Division of the Marine Fisheries and Artificial Reef Management Program. “They stay intact when they hit the bottom. They are going to be stable during storms. And over the years we’ve had a number of hurricanes coming through Florida in your area, Hurricane Charlie really helped us learn a lot about how these materials perform in big storms.
These reefs create upwellings, trapping nutrients from the Gulf of Mexico and attracting baitfish, which then attract larger predators.
“They have more opportunities to feed, and every nook and cranny of the complex structure has other lurking fish, snappers and groupers that you’ll find there,” Haynes said. “They then have increased opportunities for spawning and reproductive success, so it’s really about creating a stable new complex habitat for a wide variety of marine organisms.”
Once these reefs are established, they become hotspots for anglers and divers. This creates significant local economic opportunities. According to a 2011 study, artificial reefs create an economic output of $52 million per year in Lee County alone. That same study also showed $22.5 million in production in neighboring Charlotte County.
“You have people traveling in the area and they want to go fishing or scuba diving and we create those destinations for people,” Mille said.
Mille says these reef destinations are perfect for anglers of all skill levels.
“It’s not like the good old days when you had to navigate more carefully and really be careful,” Mille said. “You can go straight, enter those numbers. Many of these newer GPS units have side-scan images, which helps them even more with their experience for that particular site. Artificial reefs give people the immediate satisfaction they seek.
Florida fishing licenses help fund these programs. Mille says that for every 25 cents of your fishing license, the federal government will give 75 cents to the state. This money will then be used for projects so that future generations can enjoy the environment around us.