What does the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association do once it has deployed artificial reefs at more than 150 locations in the Gulf creating hundreds of viable fishing locations?
The organization creates super reefs, of course.
MBARA President Bob Cox recently applied for a supplemental grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for $95,000 that would allow the volunteer organization to deploy six new super reefs.
Cox asked for $75,000 from FWC with $20,000 from MBARA in matching funds.
“This experimental project will be the first of its kind in Florida,” said Cox. “It’s expected to add habitat complexity and diversity for species that prefer habitats higher in the water column.”
The planned super reefs, constructed by Walter Marine in Orange Beach, AL, are 17-25 feet tall and weigh 16-18 tons each.
Each reef will be constructed from one cubic yard of concrete and covered in Florida limestone. The coarse, porous 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 higher parts of the water, leading to a more active ecosystem.
“The super reefs are something different than what we’ve put down in the past,” said Cox.
In the past, the organization has focused on limestone and grouper reefs, but the super reefs will combine both in one structure. Cox aims to deploy the reefs at four different locations in the Gulf, each located 14 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.
Cox said that the MBARA sought areas for the reefs that would not interfere with shrimp nets, which are dragged along the ocean floor. A large reef in the area could spell disaster for their nets or endanger their ships.
Each of the sites is approximately 90-feet deep and one nautical mile wide.
The sites were permitted in 2006 and Cox feels like the super reefs will be the best choice to fill them.
Fish like amberjack, red snapper, grouper and pelagics prefer taller structures and would be attracted to the super reefs.
In addition to bringing new fishing options to the Gulf, Cox believes it will help build eco-tourism.
“Many people come to the area to spearfish or simply to dive the reefs and watch the wild life,” said Cox.
He said that the reefs attract tropical fish and divers can often catch glimpses of angel or butterfly fish.
“These reefs will give the ecosystems more complexity,” said Cox. “We love choice, so the more choices for fish the better.”
Cox plans for the super reefs to be the next to be deployed, whether through this grant or another next year and is excited to create another thriving location for area fishermen.
Recently, the FWC received an unexpected $500,000 from the Legislature making supplemental grants possible. Cox expects an award decision from the by Dec. 22.