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Jim Hardie: Reef Balls are coming

Martin County students will learn about the artificial Reef Ball program, which will be used in the local waters.

By Jim Hardie correspondent
April 18, 2004

pictureMartin County schools will reap benefits of a new Reef Ball program scheduled to begin operations at the start of next school year.

Meanwhile, Palm City Elementary will have students see what the Reef Ball program is all about, starting this week. The students will be the first in Martin County to see the equipment to make the unique Reef Balls.

At a glance, a reef ball looks a little like a golf ball, which has been cut in half except the average reef ball is 4 feet wide and 3 feet high. It is made of concrete and weighs about 400 pounds.

"Once you have the molds and other equipment to make Reef Balls, you can start with little ones no more than 36 inches wide, weighing about 35 pounds," said Todd Barber of Bradenton, chairman of the Reef Ball Foundation. The Foundation is a non-profit charity.

The top end of Reef Ball construction goes to a huge Reef Ball, weighing about 9,000 pounds. Barber is currently in Costa Rica, meeting with officials of the Central American country, to discuss placement of Reef Balls in Costa Rican waters.

Before departing from Miami International Airport last Friday, Barber took time to explain that Reef Balls have been made since 1993.

"We have molds for 10 sizes and nine styles. By making various sizes and shapes, we can produce a thousand or more different Reef Balls," Barber said.

Kathy Fitzpatrick is a trained construction engineer and works for Martin County. She is in charge of the Reef Ball program in Martin County, with tie-ins to the Martin County school system.

"There is a lot more to this program than making and placing Reef Balls," she explained. "We will be teaching boys and girls about the environment and things they need to learn to keep our waters clean."

At the center of this new Reef Ball project is a trailer, which is outfitted with the molds and other equipment needed to make Reef Balls for placement in local waters.

"A lot of time and effort goes into getting government approval to have areas in the Indian River where we can place Reef Balls," Fitzpatrick said. "First, we have the responsibility of doing no harm to the environment."

Besides the school children of Martin County, residents of Martin County will have the opportunity to make use of the Reef Ball equipment for beach protection (against erosion) and placement at designated offshore artificial fishing reef sites.

Barber explained that a rubber bladder can be placed inside a Reef Ball, to act as a float in placement of the ball.

"You can easily tow a floating Reef Ball with an outboard boat to an offshore site," he said. "Once you are over the selected site, you can puncture a hole in the bladder and the Reef Ball will slowly sink to the bottom. A diver can remove the punctured bladder for re-use."

All sorts of marine life especially juvenile fish quickly set up housekeeping inside the Reef Ball.

"Our studies show that juvenile fish will stay inside the Reef Ball during high tide, for protection from predators," Barber said.

One of the exciting new developments of Reef Balls, is placing of a small piece of living coral on top of the ball.

"In a short time, the living coral spreads and covers nearly the entire Reef Ball. In other words, it creates a new living coral reef," he added. "It is amazing to see a concrete Reef Ball turn into a large, living coral."


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