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Great globs of concrete to hit bed of Atlantic


Staff Writer

Last update: May 07, 2005

FLAGLER BEACH -- Strange-looking blobs of concrete plummeting to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean will be a godsend for underwater creatures -- not to mention anglers and divers.

Flagler County officials are planning to dump 110 globular "reef balls" in 68 feet of water about 16 miles southeast of the Matanzas Inlet. It will be the eighth artificial reef off Flagler's coast.

"The reefs are working out real well," said Ralph Olivett, who fishes almost every day.

Olivett, 49, said he caught red snapper and flounder at the artificial reefs this week. He owns Palm Coast Charters and frequently takes people to fish the reefs.

The Flagler County Commission is scheduled Monday to award a contract for almost $50,000 to have a company dump the odd reef balls in the ocean. Almost $40,000 will come from a federal grant funneled through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and $10,000 will come from the St. Augustine Port, Waterway and Beach Authority, according to the county.

Officials say the reefs provide a habitat for fish and they bring in tourism dollars as people travel from outside Flagler to fish and dive on the reefs.

Last year, the county dropped surplus bridge pilings to the ocean floor to serve as a reef. Amy Kennedy, coordinator of the county's Artificial Reef Program, called those "materials of opportunity."

But the porous balls, she said, make a better reef.

"The reef balls add a real complexity, and really a greater habitat than those bridge pilings did," she said.

Off Volusia County's coast -- a fishing trawler, along with concrete blocks, old ships and airplanes -- make up more than a dozen reefs where fish congregate below the water's surface and anglers drop lines above.

The seabed is flat and barren with isolated rock outcroppings for bottom-of-the-food-chain critters to grow on. The artificial reefs become an oasis, an explosion of life.

"Ain't nothing but a blank carpet with nothing going on all over the place, and then all of a sudden, bam!," Olivett said.

The algae and plankton attract the fish that are eaten by the fish that Olivett tries to hook.

It takes about three months for a healthy coat of algae to grow on the concrete, said Jim Netherton, scientific adviser for the reef program.

However, baitfish will be swimming in the area within hours after the reef balls have been dropped, he said.

"It's really fast," Netherton said.

The county is planning to use 70 reef balls made by students at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville. St. Cloud-based Reef Innovations, Inc. is expected to provide the remaining 40.

Alex Waters, director of marine studies at the high school, said his students have been making reef balls for the past five years. They pour concrete into a fiberglass mold and wait for it to dry overnight.

The result is a concrete ball up to 6 feet wide and weighing up to 4,000 pounds.

The process teaches students about habitat restoration, ecology and stewardship, he said.

"It gives them the opportunity to really do something hands-on instead of seeing a PowerPoint, slide show or a video," Waters said.

Kennedy said the county needs an eighth reef because the others are starting to get crowded. Frustrated that too many people are fishing the reefs in St. Johns County, more boaters are traveling south to Flagler's reefs, she said.

michael.reed@news-jrnl.com

DID YOU KNOW?

Artificial reefs off the coast of Volusia County are made up of wrecked ships, concrete block, sunken U.S. Navy airplanes and parts of the old Port Orange and New Smyrna Beach bridges.

· The USS Mindanao, a World War II-era ship, was the first object sunk off the Volusia County coast as an artificial reef. Submerged in October 1980, it lies in 85 feet of water, 11 miles northeast of Ponce Inlet. The bow of the ship separated from the hull during a 1995 winter storm.

· The most recent ship deposited in this area was the 670-ton fishing trawler Antilles Star, sunk off Ponce Inlet in June 2004.

-- Compiled by News Researcher Peggy Ellis

SOURCES: News-Journal archives; http://www.volusiareefs.org/

 
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