Collier County’s artificial reef program has grown to hundreds of structures since the 1980s. Directed by Collier County Coastal Zone Management, underwater structures weighing 200 to 500 tons have been created off the county’s coastline—located from a few miles to nearly 32 miles from shore.
The artificial reefs are constructed from recycled cement or limestone boulders, which are carefully evaluated to ensure the materials being submerged are free of potential environmental contaminants, according to Chris D’Arco, senior field investigator for Coastal Zone Management. D’Arco says reefs are generally surveyed once a year to assess their overall health and to clean debris.
Among other benefits, artificial reefs mitigate anchoring and fishing pressures placed on surrounding natural reefs, foster habitats for fish and invertebrate life, and offer recreational opportunities to fishers and divers. Fish and other marine life are attracted to the reefs for shelter and food.
The largest local artificial reef project commenced in 2015 as a collaboration among the Coastal Zone Management, City of Naples, and City of Marco Island. This endeavor involved the permitting of six artificial reef sites in the Gulf of Mexico and was funded by a British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon grant and private donations. The result: Almost 50,000 tons of artificial reef material were deployed at the cost of approximately $2 million. To date, no tax revenue has been used to construct the county’s artificial reefs; all funding has been generated from grants and private donations.
What’s next? More reefs. Collier County Coastal Zone Management plans to deploy additional artificial reefs of varying sizes and materials within the next few years.