Underwater Worlds 2

Lee County Reefs helps Ecosystems and Economy

Imagine you’re scuba diving or snorkeling off the Gulf Coast of Florida, and you look down to see a railroad boxcar. It’s very likely. The Lee County Reef Program has come a long way from the 1980s, when you might’ve seen a refrigerator, a tire, or a stove at the bottom of the waters.

Welcome to the team that’s helping both the ecosystem and the economy. The Lee County Reef Program has been working tirelessly for over a quarter century to enhance the wildlife, alleviate the fishing pressures, cooperate with the shrimping industry, and provide enjoyment of Florida residents and visitors, all at the same time, by installing artificial reefs into the water.

If that sounds like a lot of work– it is. Copious amounts of effort go into the artificial reefs. Several permits have to be obtained. Endless planning goes into placing artificial reefs into the water.  Site selection is critical. The reefs have to be situated on the sand bottoms in the gulf. Materials to perform this action end up on a barge, of which are delivered to a specific, predetermined deployment site. Cranes or divers put them into place, or they may just get pushed off the barge sinking into their new location.

It’s a process that’s developed immensely. The aforementioned fridges, stoves, and tires are no longer used for placing artificial reefs into the seas off Southwest Florida. Lee County officials now know what’s better for the environment. Steel and concrete are the primary makeup of what goes into creating a diverse habitat that can be inshore, offshore, or way out into the much deeper depths of the Gulf of Mexico. And what a habitat it is. You need only a brief glance to witness the reef fish, oysters, clams, and more to appreciate how artificial reefs are giving life new homes. If you’re lucky enough to view the sea creatures, you will be treated to colors so brilliant and varied, they’ll provide a veritable kaleidoscope to your retinas.

The economics for Southwest Florida are bountiful as well. Fishing and diving expeditions net the area $60 million annually. And the relative cost of these programs is a drop in the ocean. Lee County government spends approximately $30,000 per year on the reefs. They are predominately funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as well as through grants.

There’s more exciting news, as two new reefs will be put into place this summer.