JACKSONVILLE, FL – It is not often that the downtown area of a U.S. city is the backdrop for a new reef, but that is exactly where the next marine habitat project funded by Coastal Conservation Association Florida (CCA Florida) and the CCA national marine habitat program will splash down. In just a few months, two new fishing reefs will be created less than half a mile from the I-95 Bridge over the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville.
The total cost of the project is $60,000 and the Jacksonville Chapter of CCA Florida has committed to raising 50 percent of the necessary funding. The Building Conservation Trust, CCA’s national habitat program which has garnered support from country music star Kenny Chesney and Costa Sunglasses among others, has donated the remaining $30,000 to the Jacksonville reefing project.
“Costa asked me what I wanted to do with the money raised through our sunglasses last year, and I told them I’d like what we do to be something that renews the waterways, so people can enjoy them the way so many of my friends and fans do,” said Chesney. “To protect the oceans, bays and rivers is our responsibility – and I’m glad we can make a difference in the St. John River.”
“It is a unique opportunity to create some valuable marine habitat in a place where the public has unparalleled access,” said Payton Scheppe, a CCA Florida volunteer who has spearheaded the project. “This is an area of the river where an amazing variety of fish can be found depending on the time of year, right here in the shadow of high-rise office buildings. What a great place to introduce people to marine conservation and to recreational angling.”
The effort to place two reefs, each roughly 200 feet by 200 feet, in the St. Johns River has attracted widespread support. The City of Jacksonville has embraced the idea and has handled all the permitting requirements for the reefs. Among the volunteers working for the habitat enhancement is the former chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Kathy Barco. The deployment will consist of more than 25,000 cubic feet of concrete rubble will be placed in each of the two sites.
“The material is going to be carefully arranged so that there will be no issues with clearance from the surface, but there will be areas with three to four feet of relief from the bottom intermixed with open spaces to create an ideal habitat for fish,” said Scheppe. “The area now is basically just an open sandbar so the transformation is going to be fascinating.”
Taking advantage of the opportunity to study the development of an artificial reef habitat right in its own backyard, Jacksonville University has announced it will study the reefs over the next two years to gauge the impact of the structures on the surrounding area.
“Our members love to fish and they make it a point of pride to give something back to the resource so that others can enjoy it, too,” said Charles Holt, another CCA volunteer working on the project. “This is perhaps the most unique habitat project we’ve ever been part of, and we hope the people of Jacksonville will come take advantage of it.”