Monroe County and FWC officials met in Key West on Tuesday to discuss the next steps after being awarded $10 million from the State to start an artificial reef program in the Florida Keys. The meeting initiated the pre-planning process for the future of a Florida Keys Habitat Support Structure program. Stakeholders from the charter and commercial fishing industry were also in attendance and hopeful for the future of the program to take pressure off of local reefs.
"This is just the beginning, but we hope to set up a network of habitats from shallow to deep water that will support natural habitats and fish stocks. We will start with a focus on areas that are easier to permit outside of the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary," said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi. "Every journey starts with a first step, and this is our first step."
A few months ago, the County acquired 37 50-feet hollow power poles from the Florida Keys Electric Co-op's Sea Oats Beach project in Islamorada, which will likely be used as one of the first projects to be started with the money. Other projects suggested included using concrete fish domes and other ideas used in other counties across the State.
There are more than 4,000 clusters of artificial reefs in Florida, and 37 coastal counties in Florida already have an artificial reef program in place. In the Florida Keys, there are 62 artificial reefs, including wrecks, that were mostly placed between 1982-1989. The most recent artificial reef placed in Florida Keys waters was the Vandenberg off Key West in 2009. Artificial reef sites are popular among divers and fishermen.
The ambitious timeline set forward by FWC included having a draft grant agreement with a proposed initial scope of work by the end of August for approval at the September BOCC meeting. Following FWC's execution of the grant agreement, the framework for the program, establishing program goals and objectives, finding sites, meeting with stakeholders, and applying for permits will begin.
The meeting was recorded and can be viewed at www.monroecounty-fl.gov/mctv under the "On-Demand" tab.
Pictured: Gastesi meets with local commercial fisherman Johnny Buckheim and charter boat captain Will Benson. Both were full of ideas on how to make the program successful.