Skip common site navigation and headers
United States Environmental Protection Agency
National Estuary Program
Begin Hierarchical Links EPA Home > Water > Wetlands, Oceans & Watersheds > Oceans, Coasts, and Estuaries > National Estuary Program > Coastlines > April 2003 - Issue 13.2 > Sarasota Bay NEP Restores Reef Habitat End Hierarchical Links


Sarasota Bay NEP Restores Reef Habitat

In Sarasota Bay, Florida, the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program (SBNEP) has identified five major problems: stormwater, wastewater, fisheries, recreation, and habitat loss. The 1995 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) cites nutrient loading, metal contamination, wetland loss and loss of submerged aquatic vegetation as major concerns. Nutrient loading of Sarasota Bay in 1988 was approximately 400% greater than expected from a pristine undeveloped watershed, while metal contamination was significant. Since the 1950s, approximately 4,700 acres of bottom habitat in Sarasota Bay have been lost due to dredging and other activities, and 39% of tidal wetlands and 30% of the seagrass coverage has been lost. The CCMP also called for public education, Bay management, and further technical studies.

drawing of fish swimming through artificial reef ball

To restore subtidal habitat, the SBNEP has embarked on a program to construct artificial reefs. Such reefs provide valuable habitat for fish and other marine organisms, enhance recreational and commercial fisheries, and help to increase public awareness regarding natural resources in Sarasota Bay.

artificial reef ball underwaterA Fishery Habitat Enhancement Task Force determined the best sites for artificial reefs in Sarasota Bay and the best methods and materials to use. This interagency project involves Manatee County, Sarasota County, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Manasota Basin Board, and the SBNEP. Artificial reefs were permitted in upper Sarasota Bay and northeast of Anna Maria Island. Over the past 6 years, over 2,000 reef structures have been placed by the SBNEP and other organizations.

Volunteer and educational organizations have also helped to install reef balls to restore reef habitat and raise awareness of Sarasota Bay. Reef balls have been used elsewhere in Florida to create artificial reefs (see Coastlines February 2000). The "Bay Balls" are concrete reef modules approximately 3 feet across and 2 feet high and weigh about 400 lbs. Other reef balls were modified by adding a ledge habitat to attract and support gag grouper.

The deployment of such reef modules provides an opportunity to do valuable research on restoring the Bay bottom. Although researchers have studied the effectiveness of artificial reefs in offshore areas, very little research has been done on the effectiveness of nearshore artificial reefs. The SBNEP and its partners placed reef modules in clusters of various sizes and is monitoring these to determine optimum size and grouping of modules. The large number of reef modules will enable SBNEP to gather statistically significant data on effectiveness of reef restoration using reef balls.

During 2002, the SBNEP surveyed several established artificial reefs in Sarasota Bay. Over 25 fish and invertebrate species were identified, including gray snapper, gag grouper, sheepshead and stone crab. Although fish were abundant in the vicinity of the reefs (as attested by local fishermen), species diversity was low. A variety of artificial reef types would probably be needed to increase species diversity.

artificial reef balls stacked on boat deckThe SBNEP is also studying artificial structures that would provide juvenile fish nursery habitat. An early pilot project showed the potential value of deploying artificial reefs along hardened seawalls (e.g., seawalls and rip-rap); some types of structures had fish aggregations more than 100 times that of nearby areas that had no artificial reefs. In a recent shoreline survey, researchers found that over 200 miles of armored and altered shoreline exist. Altered shorelines typically do not provide enough complex or suitable habitat for fish.

The SBNEP and its partners are working to enhance habitat along altered shorelines by installing artificial reefs along shorelines and under docks (where feasible and permittable). Some reef modules may be provided to neighborhoods or municipalities through grants for reef placement along privately owned waterfront. Researchers will also study the value of using reef modules to restore the intertidal zone and to grow oyster beds. The SBNEP is working on obtaining "blanket" permits for neighborhoods and municipalities, to facilitate restoration.

man standing on artificial reef ballDifferent types of artificial reef structures will be evaluated for their ability to provide fish habitat, cost effectiveness, and feasibility of deployment. They will be monitored to see how effective they are in increasing numbers of fish and biodiversity, whether they attract fish from other nearby areas, and whether the reefs are promoting survival of juvenile fish. The SBNEP hopes to restore reef habitat throughout the Bay, by partnering with private individuals, organizations, and government agencies. By fostering research and education and involvement by local diving groups, the SBNEP hopes to raise public awareness of the value of a restored Bay.

For further information, contact Gary E. Raulerson, Senior Environmental Scientist, Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program, 5333 N. Tamiami Trail, Suite 104, Sarasota, FL 34234; Phone: 941-359-5841; Fax: 941-359-5846; Email:; Website: Exit EPA Disclaimer


Begin Site Footer

EPA Home | Privacy and Security Notice | Contact Us