Artificial reefs are a significant asset for SCUBA divers, fisherman, and coastal communities. A well planned and executed program creates interesting dive sites and marine life habitat on areas of the sea floor that otherwise would have no attraction for anglers and lovers of the underwater world.
The use of obsolete ships and other material to create habitat for sea creatures may be the ultimate recycling program because it not only saves space in landfills but it provides a return on investment many times greater than the value of the recycled item. The long lifespan of artificial reefs provides years of service to those who use them and over that time local businesses and communities reap the rewards of increased business by serving the needs of those who come to enjoy what they have to offer.
Local governments and businesses in coastal areas are becoming increasingly aware of the economic impact of artificial reefs and see them as a good investment. Artificial reef programs are becoming more common and tax dollars are being invested in many areas to bring new artificial reefs to the state of Florida. With more than 2,700 artificial reefs, Florida reportedly has the largest number of permitted artificial reefs in the nation. A University of Florida study shows that non-residents and visitors to the state spend $1.7 billion annually on fishing and diving activities associated with artificial reefs in South Florida alone with similar expenditures in other areas of the state.
Creating a successful artificial reef is a huge undertaking, often requiring millions of dollars in investment and many years of work. A myriad of tasks must be completed before the first fish claims its new home. Money must be raised from donations, grants, and other areas. A suitable ship, object, or material must be found to use as the reef. A site must be determined and permitting completed. The reef material must be stripped of any environmental hazards and made safe for divers. The reef must be skillfully and properly deployed and the entire project must have effective marketing to be successful. None of these are small tasks and all require special skills, talents, and experience. This is why the reef building community is very small.
The Florida Dive Connection team has had the pleasure of working with one such company- Reefmakers. We reported on their work in Lee County, Florida in 2012 to deploy the USCGC Mohawk. This artificial reef project was very successful and was a fitting follow-up to Reefmakers’ equally successful deployment of the USS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg offshore Key West, Florida for which they won North America’s most prestigious ecotourism award the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW ) Phoenix Award. Reefmakers is currently working on several other projects and we are anxious to see them begin.
What makes Reefmakers successful is their well rounded approach, bringing together a team of talented individuals with unique abilities that enhance all aspects of their artificial reef projects. Along with their technical skills they have real world diving and marketing experience so they understand what makes a new reef a success. Our interview with Joe Weatherby of Reefmakers during the Mohawk deployment gives some insight into their philosophy. As he said then, “We’re in the business of diving. We’re product centered.”
And with that “product centered” focus we’re looking forward to many new and exciting dive opportunities in Florida created by the Reefmakers team.