Concrete pilings weighing almost 1,400 tons rested
precariously on the edge of a powerless barge Wednesday as
volunteers with Flagler County's artificial reef program
waited for them to fall overboard.
Six-foot waves hit the barge broadside as it swayed in the
ocean 18 miles southeast of Matanzas Inlet. An excavator on
tracks -- heavy construction equipment -- compounded the
motion as it knocked the concrete off the sides with its
bucket. The pilings were once part of a bridge, but they
became Flagler County's seventh artificial reef when they
splashed into the water and sank to the seabed 65 feet below.
The reef will create a marine habitat, which makes for good
fishing and diving, said Laureen Kornel, an environmental
planner for the county. Artificial reefs are made of concrete
debris, sunken vessels and other material sent to the bottom
of the ocean.
The site was chosen because it's near a shipwreck, said Jim
Netherton, a scientific adviser for the program. Algae will
start to grow on the concrete within five days, but it will be
much longer before the reef is prime for fishing, he said.
"If you want the greatest variety of fish, it really needs
to age for a year," said Netherton, who works at the
University of Florida's Whitney Lab, a marine organism and
biological research facility in Marineland.
At Flagler County's six other reefs, fishermen catch
grouper, snapper, tuna and kingfish, said Paul Treue, a
fisherman and volunteer.
"The reef will hold just about anything," Treue said.
The project was funded by a $60,000 state and federal
grant, and the Flagler County Tourist Development Council and
County Commission spent another $10,000, Kornel said. About 50
volunteers help with the artificial reef program, and the new
reef took 2 1/2 years to accomplish, she said.
The site was identified and mapped, and the county garnered
reef material. On Wednesday, a tugboat and crew from Mobro
Marine Inc. of Green Cove Springs slowly worked the barge
between two buoys that marked the site. The crew cast anchors,
untied the barge from the tug and readied the excavator to
push the concrete overboard.
But the project didn't run a smoothly as it could have.
Pilings slipped into the ocean in rough seas, and the
anchors didn't hold. The barge drifted a mile northwest while
the excavator scattered a trail of concrete off target before
officials realized what was happening.
Netherton said the mishap didn't set them back. They
originally planned to dump two piles of material, but the new
reef would become one big pile instead, he said.
The bridge material was shipped from Jacksonville and
Bunnell to a staging area in Green Cove Springs, and Mandarin
High School pitched in 55 reef balls -- porous concrete made
specifically for artificial reefs.
In time, officials say the site will add to Flagler
County's offshore recreation.
The Atlantic seabed is flat like a desert, save for a few
rock outcroppings, from the shoreline to the continental shelf
about 50 miles out, Netherton said. Fish will stop at the
reefs to rest and feed as they migrate, he said.
Flagler County began its artificial reef program in the
early 1990s with the encouragement of Commissioner George
Hanns, and the county has two permitted sites for reefs.
The new reef -- named George Hanns Reef -- will create a
triangle with Big George's Reef that was built in 1995 and the
sunken sailboat. The five other reefs at the second site are
almost 22 miles southeast of Matanzas Inlet.
Volusia County has an artificial reef program with more
than 40 reefs at 13 permitted sites. Last year, the Volusia
County Council approved plans to acquire and sink a freighter
called Antilles Star. County officials said within the next
month the ship will be towed to a reef site and sunk about 18
miles northeast of Ponce de Leon Inlet.
Netherton said an eighth reef is planned for Flagler County
near the Matanzas Inlet. The program is waiting for funds from
Tallahassee, he said.
Artificial reefs are
one solution to the disappearance of natural coral reefs.
Scientists continue to discover ways the natural reefs are
destroyed. Here are a few coral killers.
· Abandoned fish nets get tangled up with corals,
causing damage as well as preventing other species from using
the reef. Boat anchors dropped onto reefs also cause damage.
· Runoff from land, including sewage, can smother corals.
In waters off Thailand, nutrients in some runoff has led to
the growth of starfish, which devour corals.
· Sometimes corals lose all their color due to bleaching,
which can be caused by disease, excess shade, change in water
temperature or other stresses. Scientists still don't entirely
understand bleaching, but they do believe the coral polyps
expel the nutrient-recycling algae that live in their tissues
and produce the bright and vibrant colors corals are noted
for. If the stress continues to effect the coral, it will
SOURCE: National Wildlife Federation, www.marinebiology.org,
-- Compiled by news researcher Megan Gallup.