On Dec. 22 the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association was awarded $120,000 in supplemental grant funds from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to launch the organization’s planned super reef project.
MBARA will supply $55,000 for a project total of $175,000 that will allow the organization to construct and deploy 18 super reefs, constructed by Walter Marine, in Orange Beach, AL.
“We will be using 55 steel-reinforced concrete structures with chunks of Florida limestone embedded to promote natural marine growth on the hard substrates of the structures,” said MBARA President Bob Cox. “These structures will be of four different designs ranging from 6-25 feet tall and weighing 4,000 to 36,000 pounds each.”
The coarse, porous limestone surface is made of shell fragments and makes it easy for marine animals to attach.
At the top of each reef, 10 feet of exposed rebar will attract fish that hunt in high levels of the water, leading to a more active ecosystem.
In the past, the organization has focused on limestone and grouper reefs, but the super reefs will combine both in one structure.
The reefs will be built in the Bell Shoals, Bridge Rubble, Bridge Span, North, and South artificial reef permit sites that range from 2.5 to 18.3 nautical miles from the Mexico Beach Canal.
Some sites are planned to receive one reef while two will be dropped in others. MBARA members will monitor the sea life that forms around them and collect data that will be shared with the FWC regarding the types of fish attracted and whether two reefs in one area yielded a stronger ecosystem than a single reef.
Fish like Amberjack, red snapper, grouper and pelagics prefer taller structures and would be attracted to the super reefs.
“Our vision is to build habitat to enhance our fisheries for recreational fishing and eco-tourism that fuel our local economy,” said Cox. “We truly can use more support to build bigger and better projects.”
Cox said that the project is only made possible by the support of MBARA volunteers, members, donors, sponsors, annual Kingfish Tournament participants, local merchants, City of Mexico Beach staff and FWC.
The experimental super reef project will be the first of its kind in Florida. Cox said that he intends to have the project complete by the end of April.