Three miles off the Bay County coast, out in the Gulf of Mexico, fish and other marine life are settling into a new home.
It's a case of trash becoming an underwater treasure.
In late January, the U. S. Navy deployed a new artificial reef using
144 tons of surplus concrete. Plans for a pier at the Naval Surface
Warfare Center Panama City Division were scrapped and, instead of
sending the surplus pilings to the county-operated Steelfield Landfill,
base personnel dropped it into 77' of water.
"I told them that it would be excellent materials of opportunity to build an artificial reef with," Allen Golden, Bay County Artificial Reef
Golden estimated there are about 500 artificial reefs in local
waters. "Generations of fishermen have found that if they build an
artificial reef, then they have a fishing spot where they can locate
grouper and snapper," he said.
The gulf's flat, sandy bottom offers little protection from predators, so artificial reefs provide what nature doesn't. "Whenever
you build an artificial reef, it gives the fish and marine life a
landmark," Golden said. "They will come from all around to swim and live around an artificial reef."
Bottom structure serves as a magnet for underwater life which, in
turn, attracts fishermen and divers. Golden said small fish begin
occupying artificial reefs within days of deployment and marine life is
abundant within two years.
Fred Freeman, owner of the new Adventure Diving shop in downtown Panama City, is banking on what lies below the surface.
"Every diver that comes here is here because of the artificial reefs," Freeman said. "They want to dive something unique to this area and so having those artificial reefs is the only thing that's going to get them to come out there a second time."
Golden said Bay County will be very active in 2014, constructing new
reefs and monitoring the ones already in place. "The more reefs that we
have, the more options that we have to go out and explore more
locations out in the gulf," he said.
A new Bay County artificial reef association is in the formative
stages, Golden said, and is expected to be open for membership in the
Click here for more information on Bay County's artificial reef program.