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Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Story last updated at 9:50 p.m. on Sunday, April 29, 2001

Reef Ball project donations help 'sink' orbs into the deep sea

By Dan Scanlan
Staff writer

A dozen Jacksonville companies will receive thanks from a group of Mandarin High School students Friday for their help in "sinking" a novel marine biology program.

M.D. Moody and Sons, Ring Power, Duval Asphalt, Tarmac, Jensen Civil Construction and other companies made about $16,000 in contributions to the high school's Reef Ball project, in which marine biology students made 30 hollow concrete balls that will be sunk under Jacksonville's waters to serve as an artificial reef in the coming months.

Alex Waters, the reef ball project coordinator and marine biology teacher, said the donations really got the project off the ground.

During the 1999-2000 school year, they were able to make only 15 of the artificial reef pieces, part of more than 1,000 that will be dumped on what is known as the Charles H. Kirbo Memorial Reef between St. Augustine and Jacksonville. But thanks to the donations, the number has doubled to 30 this year, as they prepare to drop the next 15 reef balls and see what sea life has taken up residence so far.

"The largest chunk of the money went to buy five reef ball forms. The rest will be used for scholarships for the Scuba Explorer Post to provide funding for dive trips for students who can't afford it," Waters said. "We are going out in early May to videotape the ones we dropped last year and see how they have grown."

The award ceremony was spearheaded by Mandarin High School advisory council member Charlotte Jensen, who got donations of up to $2,000 from some companies.

"We exceeded the amount that we needed," she said. "It is such a wonderful program for the students; they are actually making something [and] then seeing the results of what they made . . . Even people who couldn't contribute through their company contributed personally. I was very impressed with the response."

The Reef Ball Development Group has helped make 100,000 balls used in more than 200 artificial reef projects worldwide since 1993. Five hundred of the small and big concrete balls were dropped off Jacksonville June 5 in a collaborative effort between Jacksonville University, St. Augustine and Mandarin High schools, Jacksonville's Offshore Sport Fishing Club and the Water's Reef Research Team. The $85,000 project honors an Atlanta attorney involved in the preservation of the natural environment.

Waters' students made 30 more reef balls this year, and they are being displayed on the lawn outside the school on Greenland Road until they can be dropped overboard later this year. But unlike their first crop, Waters said, these will become a second artificial reef off Mayport with funding from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

"The newest ones will be placed at Montgomery's Reef, and we will be designating that as a research reef," he said. "We may even try to make it a sanctuary or preserve so we can do assessments of fish populations that aren't being harvested by fishermen and divers."

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