By WAYNE KNABB The Times-Picayune NEW ORLEANS Five experimental artificial
reefs on the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain are attracting more than
just sea life.
Anglers crowd the sites on weekends, said
Michael Poirrier, a University of New Orleans biology professor who
leads the data collection team monitoring how the empty concrete
globes with holes are working.
"They are the new fishing
spots," said Kelly Whitmore, a UNO biology graduate student who is
collecting data on the success of the reefs.
The reef balls
are concrete half-globes with volleyball-size holes that provide a
haven for sea life. They've been preferred for making artificial
reefs since the initial effort, at the Lakefront Airport, which is
made of Arkansas quarry limestone rubble.
Using reef balls
instead of rocks produces more current breaks, which in turn
attracts more small fish, experts say. Plankton, small fish and
large crawfish ride the currents and go to the reefs, Poirrier said.
Large fish feed on them, and fishermen feed on the large fish, he
On weekdays when the wind is calm and the weekend
fishermen are gone, Poirrier, Whitmore and several biologists and
undergraduates go diving to identify and count the creatures that
have taken refuge around the sites.
Whitmore said that when
the wind has been calm for several days, underwater visibility can
be as good as 10 feet. She has seen speckled trout, flounder,
catfish, sheepshead and jack crevalle, which "look like tuna but
don't taste as good," she said.
Whitmore said the reefs are
interesting places to observe.
"You never know what you will
see: blue crabs poking out of the holes, eels," she said. "It's an
The study will include how the reef balls respond
in the lake's brackish, low-salinity water, Whitmore
Reef balls are used in high-salinity waters in other
parts of the world, she said.
The census data will be used to
determine whether more reef balls can be placed elsewhere in the
lake, Whitmore said.
Any visitors to the reefs are welcome to
submit a report on their findings, which will be tabulated in the
census, she said. A form that can be e-mailed to her is available
The final report on the census is to be finished early
next year, Whitmore said.
The foundation is talking with the
state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries about the project's
second phase: creating a dive park in the lake, toward Slidell, said
John Lopez, director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation's
Coastal Stability Program.
Snorkelers could see sea life
under the lake there.
"People don't know what's under the
lake," Lopez said. The reef would be a research station with the
potential for biological monitoring, Lopez said.
are part of an effort to re-establish a hard bottom to areas of the
lake affected by past shell dredging, Poirrier said.
first reef was installed in July 2001 near the Lakefront Airport.
Reef balls were placed in September and October 2003 at three former
oil platform sites west of the Causeway in Jefferson Parish, and a
fifth one was placed January 2004 south of Mandeville in St. Tammany
Parish, Lopez said.