The Hernando Sun has been following the building of artificial reefs under the direction of Aquatic Services Manager Keith Kolasa. According to several members of the Hernando County Port Authority who were present at the Bendickson Reef on August 25, 2017 the reef project’s history began more than twenty years ago.
Frank Santo is the Vice Chairman of the Port Authority, and the captain of the vessel, Second Wind that transported other members of the Port Authority and media to the Bendickson Reef site. There, it rendezvoused with a barge from Colleen Marine (based in Port St. Joe, Florida), loaded with 600 tons of concrete materials destined to become homes for aquatic animals in the area including gag grouper, red grouper and gray snapper.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Fisheries Biologist Bradley Ennis, Colleen Marine Inc. has worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) on three previous artificial reef projects within the last two years. The county chose Colleen Marine to complete the Bendickson Artificial Reef expansion in April 2017. The project was funded via a $60,000 FWC grant.
The passengers of the Second Wind were visited by Commissioner Wayne Dukes, who stopped by to see the vessel and its passengers off to a successful voyage. Mr. Dukes serves as the Port Authority’s liaison to the Board of County Commissioners. Mr. Santo credits Mr. Dukes with being instrumental in finding necessary funding for the various reef projects.
Also aboard the Second Wind were Port Authority Chairman Paul Pelletier and Board Member Chuck Morton, both of whom provided interesting insight to the history of the reef projects. Mr. Morton was actually involved in the original planning and presentation stages in 1993. In April of 1995, ten M60 Patton main battle tanks were submerged over an 11 acre area to give the initial form to the Bendickson Reef. The tanks are arranged in a scattered fashion, with no real shape or symmetry.
The Hernando County Port Authority also includes Steve Barton, and Valerie Shelter who actively participated throughout the project, but did not attend the deployment.
After about five years of planning and postponements largely due to weather, the barge arrived at the site of the reef, located about twenty miles west-northwest of Hernando Beach (28.52917° N, -82.97717° W). Keith Kolasa, Hernando County’s Aquatic Services Manager, was aboard and directed the operation, which involved careful placement of specific pieces in chosen locations. “He’s got it pictured how it’s supposed to look”, said Chuck Morton, as the forklift gingerly lifted a nested group of concrete pipes to lower into the water.
Indeed, there was more to this operation than dropping the large cement structures into the water.
The whole planning phase took a year and half, with most of the planning centered around finding appropriate deployment sites within the 50 acre permit area. Several trips were made during this time to the reef site to map suitable areas.
Keith Kolasa explained, “Prior to the barge arriving we also pre-marked the locations with buoys and dove on the sites to verify that we had the correct locations.” Each of the three identified sites were about the size of the barge itself, and skilled tug operator Henry Houck was able to precisely maneuver the barge into the necessary positions, making the entire project look effortless.
Two of the sites received the bulk of the surplus pipes, 400 tons at one location, and 200 tons at the other. Of the materials and transport, Mr. Kolasa said, “It’s important to note that the material for this reef was provided by Coleen Marine. Coleen Marine was able to acquire this material through a manufacturer located in Marianna Florida.
Although the County had its own material stored at the water tower in Hernando Beach, it was more efficient to ship the material from Coleen Marine in Port St Joe. This allowed quicker loading and eliminated the need to navigate a barge into the Hernando Beach channel. This also eliminated any closure of the Hernando Beach boat ramp or channel during loading of the barge.”
Pyramid shaped reef modules were deployed at the smallest site. “We would like to complete studies on how effective these structures are on increasing fish productivity, so deploying them separately will help with our research objectives.”
The entire process of unloading the barge took several hours. Mr. Kolasa added, “We were also blessed with great weather which was incredible considering there was tropical disturbance in SW Florida and Hurricane Harvey in the western Gulf.”