A new artificial reef is coming to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach area thanks to a Tri-County partnership between the Tourist Development Departments in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach, and Walton County.
In late February, the Okaloosa Tourist Development Council approved allocating funds from tourist taxes to support the next phase of the County’s 5-Year Artificial Reef Plan. This plan included acquiring and deploying a 239-foot former (oil) well stimulation vessel called the R/V DEEP STIM III as an artificial reef.
The vessel, which was constructed in the 1990s for offshore oil exploration, will now become the second largest artificial reef off the Destin-Fort Walton Beach coast when it is deployed in October.
- “This deployment will demonstrate how a joint project such as this will work and pave the way for a future larger-scale project,” Fogg said.
The vessel was originally quoted at $1.8 million to acquire, clean, prepare, tow and deploy as an artificial reef but was reduced to $750,000 for the entire project. Additional funding from the Emerald Coast Reef Association and South Walton Reef Association will pay for extra reef modules to be added to the deck to enhance the marine habitat.
- Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) also contributed funds specifically for the towing fees to bring the ship to its final destination.
Once deployed, the vessel will be accessible to a wide range of dive levels as it sits in a range of depths from approximately 70-feet at the top of the wheelhouse to 135-feet at the sand. The majority of the vessel deck will sit at 100-feet, ideal for an advanced dive experience.
In addition to diving, the 65-foot high-relief site will provide an outstanding fishing location and provide habitat for popular species like Amberjack. The added reef modules enhance the overall habitat and will attract fishing favorites such as Grouper and Snapper.
- The vessel will be deployed in the eastern extent of Large Area Artificial Reef Site A approximately 22 NM from Destin East pass, 29 NM St Andrews Pass and 16.5 NM due south of Walton County.
Fogg explained that the tri-county partnership allows for expanding artificial reef programs that attract divers and anglers.
- “Our area boasts a significant amount of fishing and diving so it only makes sense that we work together to increase the opportunities,” he said. “Collaborative projects like this will open the door for future opportunities that continue to benefit locals, visitors and the environment.”
The massive steel vessel, free of hazardous materials like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), fuels, plastic and non metal items will create a unique, high-relief diving and fishing location. Advanced divers can explore the deeper levels of the vessel including the added models to the deck, while novice divers can explore the shallower wheelhouse and mast. For fishing, the structure will attract a wide variety of fishing favorites such as Grouper, Snapper, Amberjack, and Cobia.
With county funding supporting preparation and deployment, local nonprofit groups like the Emerald Coast Reef Association and CCA were able to target donations specifically for enhancements like additional reef modules and towing costs. This allowed the project to expand in scope and impact.
According to Fogg, the artificial reef system plays an important role for the local community and economy. Having a robust system not only diversifies the available habitat but it attracts more visitors interested in fishing and diving adventures. He explained that artificial reefs also benefit the environment by providing habitat for marine life.
The Destin-Fort Walton Beach artificial reef initiative demonstrates the area’s commitment to ecological stewardship and expanding opportunities for visitors and locals to experience the natural beauty of the area both above and below the water’s surface. Collaborative projects like the R/V DEEP STIM III artificial reef showcase how multiple partners can come together to make a significant positive impact.
The Okaloosa Coastal Resource Team plans to deploy the week of October 9, pending good weather conditions.