From time to yime, we get letters about Reef Balls, This one came to us
today from Hernado County, Florida...a Gulf of Mexico shallow water site
from Jim McFarlane, a diving store owner...Thanks Jim for your candid
Hernando County Reef Balls
James W. McFarlane
Aug. 2, 1999
In 1994 local divers joined forces with the county government, McFarlane’s
Scuba shop and Florida Crushed Stone, to build Reefballs for the Hernando
Reefball site. The idea sounded great; use surplus concrete, buffer it for
the proper pH, and dump it into molds Volunteers would work with
representatives from the Reefball Development Group to form and place the
balls on our reef. Florida Crushed Stone provided space and surplus
concrete, to create the reeballs.
Having some background in marine biology, I got excited about the prospect
of an artificial reef that would have the proper pH to attract and have
attached natural organisms. The selling point were exciting, hard corals,
natural reef sounds and an object that would not relocate with wave action.
As the project got underway, several members of a local dive club showed
up to pound air bobbles out of the mold as the concrete set. Poking with
plungers and pounding with large rubber mallets the Reefballs were formed.
It was impossible to work without splattering concrete all over. I showed
up several afternoons in school cloths to help in the development. It was
fun, we set up a beach table and umbrella to sit back and relax under.
Jerry, Larry, Roody & Michele did most of the work to create the 180 Reef
Balls, their efforts reward us for years to come.
As November rolled in the deadline for a state grant, that helped pay for
the project, drew near. The balls had to hit the water. The reefballs were
transported to Tarpon Springs where they were placed on a barge. Two days
of barging and placing the ball on the site commenced. The location of the
Reef Balls is west of Hernando Beach in twenty-six to twenty-nine feet of
The placement of the balls was exciting, the seas were getting rough,
newspaper reports, county commissioners, port authority members, and other
government officials were on the site to watch the deployment. I video the
placement from within the 64 degree water. The reefballs looked plain on
the sandy bottom located at the site. Shortly after placement curious fish
started swimming about.
The development and changes in the reefball sight have been monitored
since the deployment. The day after deployment Michelle, Larry and I went
to the site swam the area making sure all the balls were in an up right
position. Fish had already moved in.
We returned to the reefballs several times in the upcoming years. A dive
charter operator moved into the area and was running weekly trips to the
reefball site. Two years after placement the interest in the site dropped,
the diver charter operator, left the area. Today it is mostly local
recreational dives and fishermen that show up on the site. It is beyond
the range of many recreational boaters.
1998 Turbidity problem resulted in the lose of colurpa polifera, (an alga)
sponges were the main species attached to the Reef Balls. August 1999, I
made two trips to the reefball site at the opening of lobster season. I
was in hopes that many of the small holes had attracted lobster. I was
disappointed, no lobster, but the Reef Balls were infested with stone
crabs. The base of every ball had at least 4 stone crabs, none were
missing a claw. Many crack in the hard bottom had various sizes of stone
[Note from Reef Ball, Stone Crabs and Lobsters tend to have mutually
exclusive territories, location rather than hole design is the major
determinate as to which species will occupy the lower holes]
The bad news the second trip in the week was Sunday afternoon most or the
Stone crabs were missing. Not just claws. The other important species in
the sandy area around the Reef Balls was 4" long queen conk. Not just a
few, hundreds, maybe this site is going to help redevelop queen conk
populations, probably they started their life attached to the reefballs
and have began to migrate.
The swarms of fish over and around the reefballs were impressive. When
three or more reefballs are clumped together the small fish swarming over
them was impressive, 100’s of 1000. The juvenile hog snapper were neat to
see. I saw a single reefball with 6 grouper, a head sticking out each
hole. Ten to fifteen grouper stayed just a head as we circled clumps of
Individual reefballs in sandy areas were the least impressive. Clumps of
4-5 Reef Balls were the most productive arrangement.
[Note from Reef Ball, observations indicate individual Reef Balls support
more juvenile fish and hold less adult fish. Therefore, they are still
are important for fish production. Reef Ball recommends that 10-20% of a
project’s reefballs should be deployed in this manner. Additionally,
filling the interior of these Reef Balls with natural rock or other inert
complex material is also beneficial for juvenile fish.]
This reef is my favorite in the area to dive. Army tanks and barges just
do not have the diversity that you will find on the reefball site. The
visibly in this part of the gulf in not that good, on both dive days there
was a good 15 - 20 foot. The reefballs are not visible from the surface
but if you listen you will hear the snap crackle as you approach a reef
It is time for Hernando County to regroup and begin to expand this site,
adding some additional reefballs. Also, as was discussed many times, a
reef development permit is needed for a site in the 9 foot depth range.
Small recreational boaters need to have a site they can reach safely.
Jim McFarlane is the owner of McFarlane’s High Tech High Touch Systems, he
teaches scuba and kayak from his retail location at US-19 and Northcliffe
Blvd. Spring Hill, Florida. More information on Jim’s Diving and Kayak
Operation can be obtained at www.atlantic.net/~mcfarlan.