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STEVEN R. MARTINE staff photographer

Larry Beggs, vice president and training coordinator for Reef Ball Development Group, instructs teachers from the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, the Environmental Studies Center and area schools on how to build reef balls.

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Camps will compete to build best reef balls

By Suzanne Wentley staff writer
May 22, 2003

JENSEN BEACH They wanted "reef balls."

They got reef blobs.

But after a second, more successful effort, Environmental Studies Center teacher John Wakeman still plans to add "reef ball maker" to his resume.

On Wednesday morning, Wakeman and other environmentally minded teachers and scientists learning the art of reef ball making found the "quick-drying" concrete they used had turned into a soupy mess overnight.

"We popped the molds and they kind of collapsed," Wakeman said. "It looked soupy."

But the group didn't give up.

A second attempt Wednesday this time mixing their own concrete produced more satisfying results.

So the competition is on.

Students participating in the environmental camps at the Environmental Studies Center and visiting the Florida Oceanographic Society's coastal center this summer will get a chance to prove that kids can do it better than adults the first time around.

"I think the children can do this and be real excited about it," said Peg Clifford, a third-grade teacher at Palm City Elementary School who plans to have her students build the reef balls and learn about marine life next year.

Funded by Martin County's artificial reef program, teachers and scientists met this week at the center to learn the art of building reef balls, which will be deployed in two areas of the lagoon this summer.

The reef ball project will serve two purposes, said Kathy FitzPatrick, the county's coastal engineer.

"It's a combination restoration and education project," she said. "You learn about the environment and why they work, and you make them and then deploy them. They'll be monitoring to see what's happening, too."

Dozens of reef balls, which will be sunk near the pier at Indian RiverSide Park and along the shores behind the Florida Oceanographic Society, will be the first artificial reefs in the lagoon.

The patented reef ball design has been used in Lake Okeechobee, offshore in Palm Beach County and even in nations as far away as New Zealand, said Larry Beggs, vice president of the Bradenton-based Reef Ball Development Group.

To build a reef ball, the sneaker-clad adults broke into teams and assembled strange, crater-shaped fiberglass molds. They threw in a little sand to add crustacean-attracting texture then sprayed the mold with sugar water to prevent the concrete from sticking.

Then they inserted a boat buoy the size of a basketball into the mold, surrounded it with little inflatable balls and poured in concrete.

The end result should have been a dome with holes where the balls had been, but the concrete they used Tuesday was a pre-mixed, quick-drying kind that didn't live up to its billing.

Fortunately, the batch made Wednesday turned out solid and ready for lagoon life.

"We know not to use that kind of concrete," FitzPatrick said. "We learned all the things that can go wrong."

- suzanne.wentley@scripps.com

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Reef balls

*Reef balls are concrete reefs in the shape of hole-ridden, hollow domes.

*Over the summer, dozens will be placed in the Indian River Lagoon around the pier at Indian Riverside Park and along the shore behind the Florida Oceanographic Society.

*The reef balls will shelter juvenile fish and provide a place for oysters to grow in the shallow lagoon.

*For more information, go to www.reefball.com.

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