Okaloosa County’s Tourist Development Department is looking to construct four artificial patch reefs approximately 15-18 nautical miles from Destin’s East Pass.
- The patch reefs will be in the large area artificial reef site A (LAARS A) permitted area.
These patch reefs will be made up of numerous prefabricated artificial reef modules. The creation of these reefs will not only provide essential habitat for marine species of fish and invertebrates, but these will also provide additional fishing and SCUBA diving opportunities.
“For an area so dependent on offshore fishing and diving activities, it is important to maintain an active artificial reef program and continue enhancing the environment depended on by local captains,” said Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager for Okaloosa County.
The total cost of the project is $120,000. The TDD has submitted a grant application to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) Artificial Reef Construction & Monitoring grant program in the amount of $60,000.
- The grant requires a 1:1 cash match, which the Board of County Commissioners approved on February 1, and will use bed-tax money to fund.
- Okaloosa County submitted this exact project last year for grant funding but FWC decided internally that the Florida Panhandle was ineligible for state funds due to the County receiving NRDA money (BP Oil Spill).
“This project is all the result of the public asking for multiple reef sites to be created with a range of material types,” he said. “We will have some larger structures in there that are 15-18 feet tall, as well as some smaller ones that are 6-8 feet.”
According to Fogg, the patch reefs will range from 110ft-140ft deep.
“Northwest Florida lacks a lot of that natural habitat that you see out of Tampa or some of those more Eastern locations,” said Fogg. “So installing, or creating, artificial reef sites here off Destin-Fort Walton Beach is really important.”
With the amount of people diving and fishing the existing reef sites, Fogg says that without expanding, people would just hit the same sites over and over again.
“At the end of the day, you’re not going to have a very exciting fishing experience because you’re going to fish those locations out pretty quickly,” he said. “So it’s really important to help spread that pressure by creating all of these artificial reef sites. The reef fish aren’t going to hang around open sand bottom, they need a reef. The more of these that we have, the better it is for the fish themselves, as well.”
This particular project will occur a little bit south of where the Boat Yard location. The Boat Yard is about to get its 3rd vessel, and there have been a number of similar modules deployed in the vicinity of where this project will be.
“Every time I’ve gone out there I’ve seen people fishing and diving those sites, and a lot of times I can’t even get on them,” he said.
The grant application is due March 18, 2022. The county should hear back by June on the status of the funding.