From the vantage point of the pier, people will be able to see a flat black polypropylene plastic rectangle floating on top of the water tied off with special ropes to nearby pilings with fish swimming around and through the submerged mini reef, said Gulfport Municipal Marina Director of Operations Denis Frain during a recent interview with the Gabber.
The top is filled with foam that allows the reef to float just beneath the surface in saltwater installations, said David Wolff, president and executive director of Ocean Habitats, a non-profit based in Micanopy. At the invitation of Gulfport Councilmember Dan Liedtke and city staff, Wolff gave a detailed presentation at a regular council meeting on May 1, 2018 and explained the benefits of his company’s product.
In addition to functioning as a fish nursery, each mini reef also attracts filtering sea life such as oysters, sea squirts and other encrusting animals, said Wolff.
“They are like the kidneys of the estuary system because they filter out green algae 24 hours a day – that’s their food,” he said. “Water quality will improve as the animals on the mini reefs begin to remove the overabundance of plankton in the water.”
According to Wolff’s marine biology research that extends back to his undergraduate days at USF-St. Petersburg in the 1990s, once a mini reef unit is established after one year, it can clean over 30,000 gallons of water per day. The lifespan of each reef is at least 10 years.
Pricing for residential mini reefs installed under private docks in canals are $250 each. The commercial units purchased by the city of Gulfport for installation under Williams Pier are being made of sturdier materials at a cost of $550 per reef. Pricing includes delivery and installation.
Each mini reef measures two feet wide by three feet long by nearly two feet deep.
Installed reefs will be clearly marked with crab-trap style buoys so there won’t be any impact on people who kayak or canoe who choose to paddle nearby, said Frain. According to state law, motorized vessels must stay 100 feet away from the structure of a pier so these boaters will not be affected.
Four special ropes will extend from the top of each mini reef to nearby pilings and will allow a unit to float submerged in the water column moving up and down with the tide and current, said Wolff.
Based on the company’s experience with previous weather events like hurricanes that may cause extreme wave or tidal action, the mini reefs should survive without breaking loose or causing a problem, said Wolff.
If the mini reefs function according to plan, the city may consider installing more in other locations like the marina, the 49th Street Outfall facility for storm water runoff located next to the marina, or even in Clam Bayou, said Frain.
“The mini reefs are going to be a great thing,” he said.
One of the fish species that love these mini reefs is mangrove snapper that also happen to be a favorite food for larger game fish, said Wolff at the council meeting.
Wolff’s non-profit company is about four years old and has installed about 500 units in 22 cities around the state.
“It’s catching on,” he said. “It started in Marco Island down in Naples.”
Once the mini reefs are installed, there is essentially zero maintenance, said Wolff.
“At the city pier, you’d be watching the lines if kayakers had gone over them or if a boat out of power drifted in there as the result of a storm,” he said. At some point after several years, “the lines might need to be replaced because of fraying from barnacle growth.”
Councilmembers agreed that the mini reefs were worth trying first at the pier.
“I think we need to do everything we can to improve our water quality,” said Liedtke.