BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — In the next couple of weeks, dozens of large, engineered concrete structures will start to be deployed to the Gulf of Mexico’s sandy floor off of Bay County’s shoreline.
They’ll be dropped about 11-15 nautical miles southwest of the St. Andrew Bay pass, 7 nautical miles offshore to 8 carefully researched sites in state waters for a purpose.
“We have a small amount of natural reefs, so where we can we want to put artificial reefs and that’s what we’re doing here,” said Bay County Commissioner, Bill Dozier, on Wednesday. “Our goal is just to give the fish a place to thrive.”
It’ll be done during the next phase of Bay County’s Artificial Reef Program, which started years ago to offset damages from the BP Oil Spill.
154 structures, some 18-feet tall, will grow throughout the next three to five years into diverse underwater hubs of activity.
Scott Jackson with UF-IFAS Bay Extension and the Florida Sea Grant has helped to plan the logistics of the project.
“At first you’ll see things like bait fish come on the reef,” he said. “Eventually you’ll start to see other fish species that we’re used to that we prize, like grouper and snapper.”
He said while it’ll help build up the ecosystem for years to come, it’ll also help local industries on shore.
“All of this makes a big difference in their bottom line and supports and attracts our tourism,” Jackson said.
“It’s very important for the whole community,” Dozier said. “The fishing community, the diving community, and the tourism, all around.”
Jackson added that there will be similar funding for the Bay County Artificial Reef Program in the future, which may include more types of reef materials and permitted locations in nearby federal waters next to Bay County.