Okaloosa County’s Coastal Resource Team is gearing up to deploy 38 prefabricated artificial reef modules off the coast of Destin-Fort Walton Beach, an exciting initiative that highlights the community’s dedication to marine conservation.
- The project, made possible through funding provided by private partners and the Okaloosa County TDC, is part of a larger 5-year plan aimed at enhancing the area’s marine ecosystems and sparking interest in local water adventures.
“It’s exciting to see private organizations expressing interest in collaborating with us on artificial reef initiatives,” said Coastal Resource Manager Alex Fogg. “This cooperation significantly extends the reach of our tourism dollars, benefiting both tourists and residents while amplifying the overall impact of our projects.”
The 38 prefabricated concrete modules, 4 of which will be 25ft tall and the remaining 34 will be 8ft tall, will create 14 patch reefs within three permitted areas in state and federal waters. Each module will be strategically placed at depths of 70-115ft to optimize the benefits for marine life and the dive community.
According to Fogg, these artificial reef modules are specifically designed to encourage growth on the structure and mimic natural reef features.
- “Not only are we fostering new habitats for marine life, but we’re also providing a means for people to experience these resources in a responsible and sustainable manner,” said Fogg. “These reefs have a positive economic effect on the region by drawing in anglers and divers of all ages and skill levels from around the globe, bolstering local businesses like dive shops and charter boats.”
In addition to benefiting marine ecosystems, the project has been a valuable learning experience for some members of the community. Destin High School, for example, created a fishing class with an emphasis on marine conservation and has taken an active role in the project.
The class recently held a fundraiser at Half Hitch in Destin and raised $10,000 to purchase up to five reef modules for this deployment. The school will deploy one “super reef” (25ft tall) surrounded by 10 smaller reefs.
- Last week, the Sharks went on a field trip to Orange Beach, AL. to watch the reefs get made and to name all of the reefs that will be deployed.
Starborough Wines is also deploying $28,000 worth of reef modules. In 2022, Starborough deployed two artificial ‘Super Reefs’ off Okaloosa and Walton beaches.
- For this project, Starborough Wines will deploy 2 prefabricated ‘Super Reefs’ that will be accompanied by 16 small modules off the coast of Destin-Fort Walton Beach.
Saltwater Restaurants is deploying $33,160 worth of reefs to establish the Crab Trap Offshore Reef site. This site will be located directly south of Crab Trap Destin and consist of 9 prefabricated reefs (1 large, surrounded by 8 small reefs).
- The Emerald Coast Reef Association has recently reestablished and hopes to build momentum and interest in the organization by deploying 2 small prefabricated reefs at a cost of $4,790.
The three permitted areas (State and Federal Waters) for this deployment are:
- Fish Haven 14 (State): Starborough Wines
- LAARS A (Federal): Destin High School Reef & Crab Trap Offshore Reef
- LAARS C (Federal): Emerald Coast Reef Association
Walter Marine, the contractor selected for this project, plans to deploy the artificial reef modules in just one day, weather permitting. The targeted date for deployment is on or around May 17, 2023, during the first favorable weather window. The reef modules are constructed from clean, durable concrete and limestone materials.
The project is yet another milestone in the ongoing 5-Year Artificial Reef Plan to make Destin-Fort Walton Beach the dive capital of Florida. With this deployment, nearly 2,000 modules will make up more than 300 reef sites. This is in addition to the dozens of large vessels and other reef materials deployed in the area.
- “Our long-term goal is to establish an exceptional artificial reef system that supports both the ecosystem and the community,” said Fogg. “We’re constantly seeking new opportunities and partnerships to bring this vision to fruition.”
The coordinates for all of these artificial reefs will be posted on Visit Destin-Fort Walton Beach’s website after the deployment.