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Reef work aims to reel in fishers

Concrete to be cast into Pontchartrain

Sunday August 24, 2003

By Susan Langenhennig
West Bank bureau

Giant chunks of concrete weighing as much as 1,400 pounds and resting on shell beds about 13 to 14 feet underwater could eventually create prime fishing reefs in Lake Pontchartrain.

The Lake Pontchartrain Artificial Reef Working Group, a partnership of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, state and local officials, hunting and fishing organizations and conservation groups, plans to begin this week dropping 600 "reef balls" onto three designated sites about three miles west of the Causeway and 2 ½ miles north of the shore in Jefferson Parish.

Designed to provide habitat for plant and animal life, reef balls are dome-shaped hollow cement structures with large holes throughout to allow water to flow through.

"They're made of a benign material, and they're designed especially for this," said John Lopez, co-chairman of the working group and a director of the basin foundation.

Lopez said the group hopes to begin deploying the balls Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the weather and their arrival on a barge from Pensacola, Fla., where the balls were manufactured by Coastal Reef Builders Inc.

Buying and installing the three reef balls cost about $60,000, which the group raised through grants, including $30,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $17,000 from Jefferson Parish and $15,000 from Fish America, said Lopez, a project manager in coastal restoration for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The group is raising an additional $40,000 to pay for monitoring of the reef balls for a year by Michael Poirrier, a University of New Orleans biology professor, and Martin O'Connell, a UNO visiting assistant professor of biology.

The balls should be in place by mid-September, said Carlton Dufrechou, executive director of the nonprofit Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

Dale Minnick, owner of Coastal Reef Builders, said the balls should start seeing growth "almost immediately."

"Anything that would naturally grow in Lake Pontchartrain will grow on them," he said. "The pH of the concrete is the same as the seawater."

Lopez and Dufrechou said they believe the project is the first use of reef ball technology in Louisiana.

"One of the biggest issues was whether they would move in a storm," Lopez said, adding that the group got permits from the Corps of Engineers to allow the development of the artificial reef sites.

As a precaution, the group has installed plaques on each of the balls with the basin foundation's telephone number and other contact information in case the structures move and are discovered by boaters.

The smaller reef balls measure about 2 feet tall and weigh approximately 400 pounds, with the larger ones reaching about 3 feet tall and weighing about 1,400 pounds, Lopez said, adding that their design and girth will help keep them in place. The balls will be in an area where the water is about 13 to 14 feet deep, so the structures should not pose a navigational hazard to boaters, he said.

This is the second artificial reef project for the working group. The first involved limestone rubble placed about 2.1 miles east of the Lakefront Airport in 2001. Yellow buoys mark that artificial reef, which has become a popular fishing spot, Dufrechou said, adding that the foundation has not done a formal study of the reef.

"So far it's all anecdotal. We know that it's attracting people, and they're catching fish," Dufrechou said Wednesday as he boarded a boat for a scouting trip to the new reef sites.

Buoys will mark the new reefs, and the basin foundation will release the coordinates for anglers.

"We're really want more people to use the lake and enjoy it," Dufrechou said. "We want people to get out there and fish."

. . . . . . .

Susan Langenhennig can be reached at or (504) 826-3782.

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