On Tuesday, February 28, 2023, the Okaloosa Tourist Development Council approved a request to allocate up to $1,710,000 from 6th penny tourist development taxes towards Year Two projects pursuant to the Okaloosa County 5-Year Artificial Reef Plan.
- According to Coastal Resource Manager Alex Fogg, these artificial reef initiatives have supported the destination’s role in introducing locals, visitors, and specifically kids to the water and adventure.
Last year, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners approved a five-year artificial reef plan that allocated $2 Million dollars of funding for first-year projects. The deployment of the first-year projects included two large (190ft) vessels called the R/V MANTA and R/V DOLPHIN.
The deployments were not only a success, but came in under budget ($1.685 million). The savings were then applied to the acquisition of two additional vessels called the M/V CYCLOPS (110ft) and M/V ATLANTIS (125ft), which are pending deployment in state waters once Army Corps of Engineers Permits are issued (next 30days).
- In addition to these requested funds, $1.26 million and $120k Grant awards (anticipated in the plan) were received from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that will allow more than 400 prefabricated modules to be deployed around the recently deployed reefs, creating additional nearshore and offshore habitat.
The Okaloosa County 5-Year Artificial Reef Plan is aimed at making Destin – Fort Walton Beach the dive capital of the state of Florida and build upon its status as a premier fishing destination. The Plan provides for an annual budget of $1.5M, excluding any grant funds or partner contributions. Staff plans to complete the project over the next 18 months.
This year, with partner support, the annual project plan totals $1.71 million. The 6th penny is conservatively estimated to generate $4 million this partial fiscal year. Funding up to $1.71 million from the 6th penny was requested for artificial reefs.
These are the five projects included in the proposal:
- M/V CRIMSON WHITE: A 135ft long and 45ft tall tugboat that currently resides in Mobile, Alabama. The vessel has ideal features to become an artificial reef due to its hull thickness and vertical relief. While the exact location for deployment has not been determined, the length and height allow for it to be deployed in State or Federal waters.
- Oil Rig Jacket (frame) and Barge: A 90ft long and 40ft tall structure used to be a part of a production platform offshore Texas. The jacket will be placed on two barges and transported to a deployment location offshore Destin-Fort Walton Beach. The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) has expressed interest in being a financial partner in this project.
- M/V DEEP STIM III: A 270ft long and 65ft tall well stimulation vessel (WSV) that was originally quoted as $1.8mil to acquire, clean, prepare, tow and deploy as an artificial reef but has recently been reduced to $750,000 for the entire project. Additionally, there is interest from Walton and Bay Counties to partner and split the cost of the project evenly.
- Large Cargo Vessel: A 360ft long and 80ft+ tall vessel is currently in Louisiana. This vessel is being acquired by a government partner and following transport will remain as an artificial reef offshore Destin – Fort Walton Beach.
- Destin High School inaugural reef deployment: Destin High School has established a fishing class that has a heavy emphasis on marine conservation. The class proposed partnering on an inaugural reef project that would be built upon during each semester. A total of 10 reefs will be deployed during this project.
Fogg says that each of these projects would be individually contracted and managed separately, and that there is the potential for significant cost savings through partnerships with neighboring counties and industry groups. Additionally, this year-two plan does not include grant funded module deployments and any large transformative project that would require regional and federal participation/approval.
Fogg highlighted the importance of these artificial reefs in providing habitat for marine life and enhancing the fishing and diving experiences in the area.
- “We’re not only creating new habitats for marine life, but we’re also giving people an opportunity to enjoy these resources in a safe and sustainable way,” he said. “These reefs also have an economic impact on the area, as they attract anglers and divers, both young and old, from all over the world.”
He also noted that the projects will help support local businesses, including dive shops and charter boats.
“The creation of artificial reefs has a multiplier effect on the local economy, as it generates more demand for services such as boat rentals, scuba gear, and fishing equipment,” he said.
The projects have also garnered interest from local organizations and businesses. The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) has expressed interest in being a financial partner in the Oil Rig Jacket and Barge project, and Starborough Wines will deploy $25k worth of reef modules in conjunction with the Destin High School inaugural reef deployment project.
Fogg emphasized that these projects are just another step in the county’s efforts to enhance its marine resources.
- “We have a long-term vision for creating a world-class artificial reef system that benefits both the environment and the community,” he said. “We’re constantly exploring new opportunities and partnerships to make that vision a reality.”
More details on each project:
Project 1: M/V CRIMSON WHITE:
135ft long and 45ft tall tugboat that currently resides in Mobile, Alabama. This vessel is an ideal candidate to become an artificial reef due to its hull thickness and vertical relief, which would be attractive to fishermen as well as divers of various skill levels. Due to the vessel age, a test was conducted and there were no Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) detected.
Additionally, the vessel recently caught fire in dry dock and has been cleared of most of the environmentally harmful materials and will require minimal preparation to become a reef. While the exact location for deployment has not been determined, the length and height allow for it to be deployed in State or Federal waters.
Project 2: Oil Rig Jacket (frame) and Barge:
90ft long and 40ft tall structure used to be a part of a production platform offshore Texas. The Idle Iron program requires non-producing platforms to be decommissioned and removed. Instead of scrapping/recycling the structure, the jacket will be placed on two barges and transported to a deployment location offshore Destin-Fort Walton Beach. The oil rig jacket and barges will be sunk as one unit.
According to Fogg, there are numerous examples of oil rig jackets being deployed as artificial reefs and prove to be outstanding habitat and remain stable in strong storm events. The final height of the overall structure will require it to be deployed in federal waters to meet the permit requirements but the relief will make an ideal location for a variety of skill levels and fishing opportunities.
The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) has expressed interest in being a financial partner in this project which will reduce overall cost. In the event a platform does not become available during the project timeline, these funds will be allocated to another vessel.
Project 3: M/V DEEP STIM III:
270ft long and 65ft tall well stimulation vessel (WSV). This vessel was constructed in the mid-1990s and there are no concerns of PCBs. It is currently owned by the same company and in the same location as the R/V DOLPHIN and R/V MANTA. This vessel was originally quoted as $1.8 million to acquire, clean, prepare, tow and deploy as an artificial reef but has recently been reduced to $750,000 for the entire project.
Additionally, there is interest from Walton and Bay Counties to partner and split the cost of the project evenly. The vessel would then be placed in the shallowest water permitted and as close to the middle between East Pass (Destin) and St. Andrews (Panama City) pass.
“This deployment will demonstrate how a joint project such as this will work and pave the way for a future larger-scale project,” said Fogg.
Project 4: Large Cargo Ship:
360ft long and 80ft+ tall vessel is currently in the port of Lake Charles, LA. This vessel is being acquired by a government partner and following transport will remain as an artificial reef offshore Destin – Fort Walton Beach. The total project cost is unknown although the vast majority of the costs will not be borne by Okaloosa County.
The proposed County contribution will be used to help with towing, mapping, and survey services. The County will not be responsible for any of the exercise planning associated with this project but will provide expertise and consult on different aspects of the project that relate to artificial reef planning.
Project 5: Destin High School inaugural reef deployment:
Destin High School has established a fishing class that has a heavy emphasis on marine conservation. During a recent guest lecture, the class proposed partnering on an inaugural reef project that would be built upon during each semester. The class recently held a fundraiser where they raised $10,000 to purchase up to five modules to be deployed in a permitted area offshore Destin – Fort Walton Beach.
According to Fogg, the deployment vessel requires a larger deployment to justify the mobilization of their vessel. County staff have worked to include other projects on this deployment including a partnership with Starborough Wines, who will deploy $25k worth of reef modules.
- This project will require an additional 35 modules to fill out the vessel for deployment, which is proposed to be funded through Okaloosa County as outlined in this plan.
While approved by the TDC, the plan still has to get the final approval from the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners at an upcoming meeting.