Fish start swimming into newest artificial reef

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The weather was a bit uncooperative, so it was delayed a couple weeks, but with July came the start of the newest artificial reef off the Franklin County coastline.

The Buddy Ward Memorial Artificial Reef, named after a longtime leader of the area’s seafood industry, was deployed successfully on July 1 to its one-nautical-mile square permitted site in state waters approximately eight miles south of Bob Sikes Cut off St. George Island.
“The whole thing took a few hours,” said charter captain Grayson Shepard, former chairman of the Apalachicola Area Reef Association. “It went smoothly; we had excellent weather for deployment.”
Walter Marine, out of Orange Beach, Alabama, strategically placed 35 Florida Limestone reef units or modules - each eight-feet tall with a 10-foot tetrahedron base, and weighing three tons - in five patch reefs consisting of seven reef units per patch. The total weight of the modules is estimated at 105 tons.
“Picture a square and the sides are 70 feet from corner to corner,” said Shepard. “Each corner has a pyramid and in the center there are three pyramids, placed together like a triangle, which is 50 feet from the center to the corner.
“A scuba diver can come down and with good visibility can see the whole thing,” he said.
Grant funds from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission covered the bulk of the $70,000 cost, with the rest coming from private donations.
Shepard said the Buddy Ward reef is far from complete.
“The reef site is one nautical mile square, with is longer than a regular mile,” he said. “That’s 856 acres, that’s a lot of space. Huge.”
Shepard said he anticipates that among private donors there will be those who wish to memorialize a beloved fellow fisherman or woman. “For $2,500 you can have a plaque with a loved one’s name, like a tombstone, and they even can mix up ashes in the concrete and ‘bury your loved one at sea.’ There’s people who want that to happen.”
AARA has its sights set on a deeper reef site in federal waters out by the S tower, roughly 30 miles southeast of Bob Sikes Cut in 110 feet of water.
“We’ll deploy larger structures,” Shepard said. “It’s a work in progress, it will be a few years down the road to get permitting and raise funds.”
He said the new 40-foot-deep reef should already be attracting bait fish. “Then pelagic species like cobia and king mackerel will come in, they could be there right now. Snapper, grouper, other reef species will move in over the next six months or so.”

For more information, email Bill Mudd, the chairman of AARA at bmudd@wmslawfirm.com. Or visit www.apalachicolareef.org or reefmaker.com.

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