‘Sea-Life’ group wants reef idea to sink in

When the Sea-Life Habitat Improvement Project’s ship comes in, it’ll sink.

“It’s money well spent and it comes back to us in several ways,” April Price, the executive director, said. “It’s an economic-development project that has an ecological edge.”

The organization is looking to scuttle a larger ship off the Treasure Coast to be an artificial reef, a habitat for numerous species of sea life. “We take some of the diving and fishing pressure off natural reefs,” Price said.

Price will talk on the topic on Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Fort Pierce Yacht Club, 700 N. Indian Drive, Fort Pierce. The talk and other educational presentations about the Sea-Live Habitat Improvement Project’s efforts to build a large artificial reef will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The idea of artificial reefs is simple – it’s taking a featureless area of seabed and turning it into prime real estate for numerous kinds of sea creatures. Price said the process is amazingly fast. She said fish seem to have an artificial reef sonar. “They find it fast,” Price said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Where there are concentrations of sea life, there’s diving and fishing. Additionally, artificial reefs can help reduce erosion.

The idea of artificial reefs goes back to biblical days, but the earliest ones were mostly for defense. Sinking ships and other materials for creating fish habitat goes back hundreds of years. In this country it seems to have started in the early 1800s.

Price said Florida has been home to many notable artificial reefs, including the world’s largest. That’s the USS Oriskany close to Pensacola. The Mighty O is an Essex class aircraft carrier that served from shortly after World War II to the 1970s. The state sank the ship to become a marine habitat in 2006.

Florida is also home to the second largest artificial reef, the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a World War II transport ship. Reefmakers sank the vessel which had served three military branches near Key West in 2009.

Another noteworthy artificial reef is the World War II era Coast Guard cutter USS Mohawk. About five years ago that ship was scuttled 28 miles from Sanibel Island to become the Veterans Memorial Reef.

Price said those artificial reefs have become marine tourist destinations. The more prominent the ship serving as the reef, the more draw it has. “When it’s something storied, it makes people from all over the world want to come to see it,” Price said.

Sea-Life Habitat Improvement Project started in 2010. It was immediately hit by a setback. Metal prices had an uptick in recent years. “A lot of ships that had been available (for artificial reefs) were getting scrapped,” Price said.

The organization set itself to fundraising and doing other community projects, such as launching the annual Fort Pierce Oyster Festival, which it awaited a ship. The organization allowed another to take over the oyster festival, but it’s still involved in oyster reef restoration efforts. Additionally, Sea-Life Habitat Improvement Project took over running the annual Martin County Lionfish Round-Up.

After SHIP, that’s the organization’s acronym, scores a ship, it’ll have lots of cleanup to do to ensure environmental safety. Price said there are many layers of government oversight involved in creating artificial reefs.

Additionally, Price said that at press time, the Sea-Life Habitat Improvement Project may be on the verge of a large announcement.

For more about the Sea-Life Habitat Improvement Project visit www.sinkourship.org.

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