PARADISE REEF

If you don’t get much opportunity to go boating or fishing, you probably don’t know that up until recently our local reefs had been in dire shape, ramshackle.
They’ve aged significantly, but thanks to an epic multi-million dollar project called The Artificial Reef Project, very very soon many of us can go deep water fishing and diving to our hearts content.

It means the opportunity to see and catch all sorts of cool fish and other ocean life that live in the new concrete artificial reefs that are revolutionizing our waters – literally.
paradise-reef-2Find out where to fish and dive here:
Wasmer Reef
10 nautical miles from Gordon Pass
26:01.920N 81:58.540W

Foote Family Reef
17 nautical miles from Gordon Pass
26:01252N 82:06.468W

TOD SIROD Reef
13.5 nautical miles from Gordon Pass
26:07.741N 82:03.367W

Jackson’s Fish Camp Memorial Reef
14 nautical miles from Gordon Pass
26:03.673N 82:03.367W

Marco #1

16 nautical miles from Marco Pass
25:41.682N 81:46.980W

Rooney Reef
26.6 nautical miles from Marco Pass
25:54.180N 82:14.245W

paradise-coast-artificial-reef-projectWhat’s down there?

Already large red grouper, snapper and kingfish are being caught in the reefs, which range from 30 feet to 72 feet deep, according to Diane Flagg, Chair of the Economic Recovery Task Force and a founder of the Artificial Reef Project.

“The modular units were designed to suit particular species of snapper, sea turtles and other fish that go out to the Ten Thousand Islands and now have a place to live,” said Tim Flood, a local attorney who spearheaded the project.

What is The Artificial Reef Project?
Think of it as inviting real estate to tempt awesome fish species to stick around. A joint initiative of private and public agencies deployed 500-ton recycled concrete modular units to create 36 reefs in six offshore sites.

A total of 18,000 tons of clean concrete recycled from construction projects around town were used to fill the reef sites roughly 12 to 30 miles offshore. And the reefs are expected to attract wildlife and support their growth quickly.

How Did It Get Started?
It really started with local attorney Tim Flood.

“I’m a fisherman and I was tired of going out and trying to find the old reefs,” Flood said. “The Gulf of Mexico is basically flat, and shallow.

“You have to have structure off of the bottom in order for fish to populate and grow.”

He reached out to local agencies and business leaders and got The Artificial Reef Project officially launched. It’s said to be the largest scale artificial reef project in the western hemisphere. Paradise Reef, a new documentary which aired on WGCU in June, brought fresh interest to the new reefs and the impact they will have on Southwest Florida’s tourism and ecosystem.

Why the big deal?
Money! The reef project is a win-win. It will bolster the health of the Gulf of Mexico, and will bring a new multi-million dollar eco-tourism for underwater adventurers and avid anglers in our backyard.

Already, artificial reefs attract billions of dollars on Florida’s Southeast coast. A 2001 study of Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Date and Monroe counties found that non-residents and visitors annually spent $1.7 billion on fishing and diving activities associated with the artificial reefs there, and created roughly 27,000 jobs and $782 million in wages and salaries, according to an IFAS. It’s making huge waves on Southeast Florida’s economy, the kind Southwest Florida is hoping to recreate on our coast.

Why do we need it?
Building new reefs means a wide range of sea life will have a reason to stay and thrive just off our coast.
“It should have a huge impact on the fishing industry and the diving industry in the coming years,” said Eileen Connolly-Keesler, president/CEO of The Community Foundation of Collier County. “All those things that continue to add to tourism are more reasons for people to come here.”

Who’s involved?
Tim Flood reached out to Collier County’s Economic Task Force and collaborated with local business leaders, marine ecosystem experts and several volunteers (basically everyone) to develop the Artificial Reef Project.

But really, it’s been a HUGE group effort with Collier County, the Cities of Naples and Marco Island as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the NOAA, Florida Power and Light, Waste Management, local contractors and countless others.

paradise_reef_raw-7Who paid for it?
The whole reef project was funded by a $1.3 million grant from BP’s Gulf Tourism and Seafood Promotional Fund (aka BP Gulf Oil Spill fund), and $500,000 in private donations collected by the Community Foundation of Collier County.

Where to watch:
To see the documentary, visit http://video.wgcu.org/video/2365794811/.