By Carol Cox, Board of Directors and Research Diver, Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association

Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 10:42 AM.

How do you say good-bye to the love of your life?  How do you say good-bye to someone who has been your mate, your best friend, and even your best fishing buddy?  For Bonita Thompson, her husband John had been all these things and more.  When cancer took John’s life, Bonita knew how she wanted to say good-bye; she would build John a reef.

It wouldn’t be just any reef; it would be a reef in John and Bonita’s favorite fishing area, the Bell Shoals site three miles off the shores of Mexico Beach, Florida.  John and Bonita spent many happy days there, following their passion to hook a cobia, one of the largest, best fighting sport fish in the area.

The Bell Shoals site had just been re-opened for reef building after a 10-year hiatus.  The John Thompson Memorial Reef was the first new reef planned for this area.  Bonita initially planned to put down three modules, one with a plaque to honor John’s memory.  It shortly became evident that family and friends wanted to build John a larger reef.  With help from the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA), Bonita set up a memorial fund.  Donations rolled in and the reef grew from three to 21 modules. 

Building a reef this size takes time and planning.  The Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association, a non-profit organization that builds reefs off the coast of Mexico Beach, was there to give Bonita all the support she needed.  MBARA does a reef deployment one or two times a year.  John had passed away in December, so his reef was planned for the scheduled deployment the following April.  That allowed time to build all the reef structures, make a trip to build John’s reef, and plan a fitting Life Celebration to be held after the deployment.

On a beautiful day in March, Bonita and John’s sister travelled to Reefmaker’s yard in Orange Beach, AL, where John’s reef would be built.  They were joined by MBARA board members Bob and Carol Cox.  The Cox’s were there to support Bonita and build a reef for Bob’s grandparents. 

Everyone watched as Reefmaker’s crew set about pouring wet concrete into a triangular-shaped mold.  They carefully placed the heavy granite plaque lovingly designed by Bonita.  The plaque had a poignant message along with John’s portrait.  In a corner was a reminder of the happy life Bonita and John had together--a photo of John piloting his boat as Bonita stood on the bow searching out their favorite quarry, cobia.

With the plaque in place, Bonita placed John’s favorite cobia jig in the wet concrete.  After time to reflect, Bonita and John’s sister helped the Reefmaker crew add limestone rocks to the panel.  The limestone would allow quicker growth of marine organisms on the reef.  Once the concrete panel dried, it would be combined with two more panels to form a three-sided pyramid.

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