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Bay County is helping marine life one artificial reef at a time

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) – The waters in the Bay County area are popular fishing spots.

Now county officials are hoping that adding artificial reefs will increase the popularity. These artificial reefs promote more marine life.

These patcheries are used by many locals and visitors from those who fish to dive.

“We got to put out one of our deployments which were about 120 tons, and this is part of a large project where we’re going to be putting out a total of about 1000 tons,” said Scott Jackson, Bay County Extension Director, the University of Florida IFAS extension director.

These restore project reefs are made up of concrete and use the materials to create more fishing habitats.

“This particular one is just some stockpile of concrete pipes and stuff we’ve had in the roads and bridges that we ‘ve just been storing for years and years,” said Tommy Hamm, Bay County Commission Chairman. “Fishing industry in Florida is huge and for our area this is just an economic driver for locals as well as tourists when they come down, they’ll have a chance to fish.”

The reef that sunk into the Gulf is about 6 nautical miles from St. Andrews Bay, making it accessible for locals and visitors.

“The site is special because in the history of Bay County with permitted areas they have not had something this close,” said Chantille Weber, Coastal Resource Coordinator, University of Florida IFAS, Bay County extension.

This is the second of the 10 reefs that will be dropped.

“It is going to a ton of beautiful new habitat in the next year or so. the reefs now are going to be dispersed among 9 or 10 sites so that helps to relieve fishing pressure,” said Weber.

The reefs are around 120 feet long giving access to fishermen and divers.

“We like to say that it takes 3 to 5 months for those species to start establishing to call it home, but really 3 to 5 years is the time frame for it to become a fully viable reef,” said Weber.

The county is expanding the artificial reef system in the community as it plans to drop more reefs.

They hope to deploy the rest of the reefs in Phase One next month and will start Phase 2 in the fall. County leaders say these habitats are important to businesses that use fishing for charters or as food in restaurants.

We are told the trips to drop off the reefs cost around $450,000. The county is using restore grant funds from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.