INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — As dozens of
people gathered on Castaway Cove's stretch of beach Tuesday
and waited to see space shuttle Discovery, Vero Beach High
School teacher Sue DeBlois' gaze was fixed nearby on the
The tugboat, owned by McCulley Marine Services of Fort
Pierce, was about to lower a series of concrete "reef balls,"
made by DeBlois' environmental-science students in March 2004,
into the ocean about 300 yards from shore.
DeBlois and some
colleagues watched from the Hana Ho, a powerboat owned by her
friend, Vero Beach general contractor Bob Hickerson.
"Ready," came a voice on the Molly's loudspeaker.
Then with a hoist from the winch and a shove from a
crewman's foot, the first reef ball slid off the Molly's
stern. The winch lowered it about 17 feet to the sandy bottom
below, where fish, lobsters and other creatures are expected
to find a cozy home in the hole-pocked reef balls.
"It's actually happening," DeBlois said. "I was thinking
this would just be a wonderful idea that wasn't going to be —
like we'd made 25 huge paperweights."
The reef balls were expected to be placed by the fall of
2004, but hurricanes Frances and Jeanne delayed the project.
Each reef ball is a concrete dome shape, weighing about
3,500 pounds and measuring 6 feet wide by 4 1/2 feet high,
full of holes for fish and other creatures to inhabit.
After a few hours Tuesday, the Molly had lowered nine reef
balls. The Molly and her sister tug, Regina T, laden with
eight reef balls, then returned to dock in Fort Pierce.
Both tugs rode a 3-foot swell and the crews didn't want to
risk the Regina transferring more reef balls to the Molly for
a second series of drops.
"It was too rough," said John "Boo" McCulley, president of
McCulley Marine Services. "We didn't want the chance of
banging the reef balls together."
He said the Molly would return today and try to get the
remaining 16 lowered.
DeBlois and Hickerson started planning the reef ball
project in January 2004 for a class exercise. DeBlois said
Hickerson helped her get the cement donated by Rinker
Materials' Vero Beach plant .
"When Sue told me she was going to do this with high-school
students, and nobody had previous construction experience, I
said, 'This girl needs help and doesn't know how to ask me for
it,'" Hickerson recalled with a chuckle.
DeBlois said she said she wished the students who had made
the reef balls could be aboard with her to see them being
lowered. But two classes have graduated from the high school
"They've moved on," she said.
The reef balls, however, are here to stay. DeBlois said
they are expected to last 500 years.