Two more 100-plus-foot vessels to be deployed as artificial reefs off Destin-Fort Walton Beach coast

In March 2022, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioner allocated $2 million toward a pair of large research vessels available in Louisiana for deployment as artificial reefs. These vessels were the MANTA (180ft) and DOLPHIN (178ft).  

  • County Staff negotiated the total costs to be $1,685,000, which resulted in a savings of $315,000.
  • Now, Marine Environmental Services, LLC has offered two vessels, the ATLANTIS (125ft) and CYCLOPS (110ft), to the county for deployment as artificial reefs.  

Both vessels are decommissioned offshore supply vessels that were used in the oil industry. According to county documents, the total cost to acquire, prepare and deploy these two vessels located in Texas is $360,000. 

  • The savings from the acquisition of the DOLPHIN and MANTA, combined with funds from the FY 2022 artificial reef budget line, were used to purchase these new artificial reefs.

According to Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager for Okaloosa County, the plan is to deploy these vessels in state waters (within nine miles of shore) in one of their 3 new permitted areas. 

Fogg says that they currently have the DEP permit, but are still waiting on the Army Corps of Engineers permit, which has been in coordination for months.

“I’ve been told that we’re on the fast track and we could have those permits in as soon as a couple weeks or a few months from now,” said Fogg. “We will proceed with cleaning these vessels and plan on deploying them in one of our permitted areas that are in state waters. If all else fails and we’re out of time, we’ll put them out in federal waters, as shallow as we can deploy them.”

But the main reason for deploying them in state waters is that the county hasn’t had a state water vessel deployment since 2000 (Eglin Landing Craft). 

  • “A lot of the vessels currently in state waters are getting old, they’re breaking down and the dive and fishing industry is really screaming for some high profile, large artificial reefs for them to be able to visit with some of their more novice divers or in smaller boats that don’t have to go very far offshore to access these vessels,” added Fogg. 

Fogg says that while the ATLANTIS and CYCLOPS are large vessels, they don’t have a ton of vertical relief. He says that because of this, they will remain relatively stable in storms and in other rough weather that have demonstrated the ability to move vessels. 

As for depth, the county’s permits require them to deploy vessels that have no higher than one-half the water depth. 

  • If the county deploys a vessel in 60-feet of water, there has to be at least 30-feet of clearance, meaning that the vessel can’t come more than 30-feet off the bottom. 
  • The plan is to deploy the ATLANTIS and CYCLOPS in 70-80 feet of water.

“The top of the vessels will be at a depth that is very accessible to very novice divers,” added Fogg. “But it is also going to be an outstanding fishing site as it’s a large structure that’s certainly attractive to a lot of those reef fish species.”

The addition of the ATLANTIS and CYCLOPS is a nice bonus to Destin-Fort Walton Beach’s 5-year artificial reef plan that actually started with the purchase of the DOLPHIN and MANTA.

“We were expecting to spend around $2 million on the DOLPHIN and MANTA, but because we came in well under budget, it opened up the door for us to acquire a couple of additional vessels,” he added. “The 5-year plan includes building out our state waters with some of these vessels down the road, but we were able to accelerate that portion of the plan to get these in the water.”

That’s not to say that these vessels will be the only ones going in state waters. Fogg and his team plan on doing additional state water deployments and not just modules and secondary-use concrete

“We hope to put additional vessels in state waters, which are obviously attractive to all aspects of the fishing and diving industry,” he said.

Now that the cleaning and preparation process has begun for these new artificial reefs, Fogg says he plans on having them deployed well before October 1, 2022.

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