Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Artificial Reef Program's Revival Eagerly Anticipated

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Artificial Reef Program's Revival Eagerly Anticipated

Article excerpt

Byline: CAREN BURMEISTER

Time, saltwater and storms have eaten away at dozens of artificial reefs off Jacksonville's coast, diminishing the number and variety of fish and marine life that attract fishermen and divers.

But this week, Jacksonville agreed to lift a seven-year moratorium and revive its program of building artificial reefs.

The Jacksonville City Council adopted a measure Tuesday approving 21 offshore sites that are suitable for man-made reefs. Most of them are artificial reefs that have deteriorated, said Jacksonville spokeswoman Kristen Key.

Under the ordinance, Jacksonville will take ownership and liability for those sites. The measure assigns the city's Environmental Quality Division to open the application process.

Reefs provide a rich habitat and feeding ground for fish, soft corals and plant life, which in turn attract fishermen and divers to the area. Members of the Jacksonville Offshore Sport Fishing Club, who started the artificial reef program decades ago and kept it going, are excited, to say the least.

"A lot of our artificial reefs have deteriorated. That's why it's important for us to continue the program," said Steve Park, owner of Atlantic Pro Divers, which has two shops at the Beaches. "They are a great asset."

His favorite is Paul Mains Tug, an old boat that was sunk in 1967 and named for an offshore fishing club member who wrote articles for The Florida Times-Union. It was the last place Park dove with his father before he died and one of the first reefs where he took his son diving. It's still a vital reef and Park said he has taken hundreds of people there.

About 95 artificial reefs are off Duval County's coast, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. While some are as far as 45 miles offshore, most are about 10 miles off.

Artificial reef advocates said the economic impact is significant because of fishing tournaments, charter boat fishing, diving, eco-tourism and services such as boat fuel, ice, bait, tackle and dock fees.

In a sense, the reefs extend the coastline, said Ed Kalakauskis, a scuba diver and offshore fishing club member.

"It just has a positive impact all the way around," Kalakauskis said. …

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