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JASON NUTTLE staff photographer

Children’s busy hands create a reef ball at the Environmental Studies Center in Jensen Beach on Friday. The five reef balls created by 56 children will be used off the shores of Indian RiverSide Park to create habitat for fish and other marine life in the Indian River Lagoon.

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JASON NUTTLE staff photographer

Kelly Brown, 11, of Palm City, uses a rubber mallet to break a reef ball mold.

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Kids rule at making reef balls

At the same task weeks earlier, area teachers produced only reef blobs on their first try.

By Suzanne Wentley staff writer
June 7, 2003

JENSEN BEACH — They wanted reef balls.

They got reef balls.

The 56 fifth- and sixth-graders put their teachers to shame Friday by constructing miniature artificial reefs out of concrete that, unlike the adult version two weeks ago, were hard and gritty — just like they were supposed to be.

But the kids didn't rub it in.

"Hey, mistakes happen," said 10-year-old John Girer with a laugh, as his group pulled the fiberglass mold off the reef ball they started earlier this week.

The students participating in Camp WET at the Environmental Studies Center were just excited to help create the odd-shaped concrete reefs that will be sunk in the Indian River Lagoon for increased fish and oyster habitat.

A group of teachers from various elementary schools in Martin County tried to create the reefs two weeks ago, but the so-called "quick drying" cement they used didn't harden.

Their first attempt at reef balls turned out to be reef blobs.

Camp teacher John Wakeman said he was impressed with the first kid-made versions, which will serve as a prototype for reefs that will be made in classrooms throughout the district during the next school year.

"These are professional-quality reef balls," said Wakeman, who was one of the teachers who had trouble. "The kids ran circles around us, as far as reef balls go."

Making the kids' feat even more impressive, the teachers also had the help of the vice president of the Bradenton-based Reef Ball Development Group, which designed the molds and process for making the underwater reefs.

"People think that kids can't do anything, and then they see the adults mess up," said Annie Uzar, 11. "I think it's pretty cool. We're the first kids in Martin County to do this."

In fact, most of the campers on Friday thought it was pretty easy to make the reef balls — a process that includes mixing concrete and pouring it around a boat buoy into a fiberglass mold.

Scott Sanders, 11, had some advice for the next time adults want to try their hand at the art of reef ball making.

"We did a better job because we have better teamwork," he said.

Ten-year-old Tyler Flanagan thought the key to success was to "make sure nothing breaks and be gentle with it."

Wakeman, along with fellow teacher Kirsi Johnson, plans to deploy the reef balls with the campers Thursday around the pier at Indian RiverSide Park.

Reese Walden, 11, said he liked knowing he and his fellow campers were helping to improve the underwater environment in the lagoon.

"It will be a new home for other fish," he said.

"It takes years for the other reefs to grow back, if they're hit with a boat or something," he said. "These here, maybe took us two days."

Of course, it can take a few days more — when adults try it.

- suzanne.wentley@scripps.com 

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