VERO BEACH -- Cody Quinn gripped the
sides of a cement-truck chute as his classmates stood recently
by outside Vero Beach High School.
They all braced for the first rush of wet cement to slush
down and fill a large dome-shaped mold, forming a 3,500-pound
structure that will one day shelter fish.
"Tell me when you
see it," Rinker Materials operator Vernon Webb told the
15-year-old sophomore as he started the mixer on his truck.
Quinn did so and within minutes, the mold was filled.
Juniors Adam Snodgress and Kyle Juall, both 17, beat the mold
with mallets to settle the cement and dislodge air pockets.
Junior Eric Nestor and senior James Yates, both 18, had
their gloved hands in the gravel-filled cement, guiding it
around an air-filled buoy and various knobs inside the mold.
And junior Chantale Seamons, 17, plugged up a few leaks
between the mold's quarter sections.
"It's gooey. It's fun," she said.
And in a short while, Quinn signalled to Webb that they had
enough cement to fill the mold.
"If you get too much, you get an overflow," Quinn said.
A concrete lesson
"This is better than doing bookwork in class," junior
Heather Driscoll, 16, said as the class prepared a mold.
It was all part of VBHS environmental-science teacher Sue
DeBlois' effort to make the class lessons on aquatic
ecosystems more concrete.
"We've been studying coral reefs," she said. "But, of
course, our reefs here aren't coral. They're wormrock."
Now, she said, students can build a marine habitat to help
the fish, spiny lobsters and other marine life rebound from
being displaced by last year's beach-restoration project south
of the Sebastian Inlet.
DeBlois said her class has been making "reef
Feb. 12, about two per week, and said she expects to have 25
completed by early April.
That would allow the class to piggyback aboard an
artificial reef project that Indian River County is
undertaking off South Beach Park.
The Bradenton-based Reef Ball Development Group invented
the reef-ball design and has a foundation that approved of the
students' plans as part of their education, DeBlois said.
So far, group Vice President Larry Beggs says, reef balls
have been used in Lake Okeechobee, offshore in Palm Beach
County and even in nations as far away as New Zealand.
"These are supposed to last 500 years," DeBlois told her
class. "We won't be around to know, but that's the idea."
Sophomore Chris Mayland, 15, of Yeehaw Junction, inflated
the rubber buoys within the molds. Once the concrete hardens,
he said, the buoys would be deflated and removed, leaving a
hollow dome shape, pocked by holes for fish.
In addition, junior Dan Washburn, 17, showed where he had
piled sand in the bottom of the molds. When the sand is
removed, he said, that will leave behind an uneven bottom
suitable for lobsters.
"It will be like a cave," he said.
And before the concrete hardens, junior Joey Robbins, 17,
added, the sand prevents the wet cement from oozing out under
the mold. Robbins' job was to assemble the molds with what
looked like giant cotter pins.
Sinking a project
County Coastal Resource Manager Jonathan Gorham said he
wants to see how the students' concrete balls succeed in
imitating nature alongside the more expensive limestone the
state requires in the county's South Beach artificial reef.
Wilkinson & Jenkins Construction Co. of St. Petersburg
is expected to start in May on a $4.2 million task placing
50,000 tons of limestone boulders within a 5.2-acre site at a
depth of 16 to 20 feet. The company is required to be finished
by Sept. 30.
The state Department of Environmental Protection is
requiring the county to build the artificial reef to offset
sand from last year's beach-restoration project, where new
sand covered 3.5 acres of natural "hardbottom" reefs in the
County officials chose South Beach because the county's
other beaches all have natural reefs close to shore.
Gorham and DeBlois said they hope Wilkinson & Jenkins
can take the students' reef balls on a barge from Fort Pierce
along with the limestone.
"(DeBlois') class was looking for a place to do a reef
project and ran into a lot of problems with permitting,"
Gorham said. "As it happened, we had a permitted big reef