By Coastal Breeze News Staff
One of the largest, master-planned artificial reef projects in the Western Hemisphere is underway in the Gulf waters off of Naples/Marco Island/Collier County. Thirty-six reefs off the Southwest Florida coast will be a game changer for the ecology — and economy.
When complete, conservative estimates anticipate an economic boost by some $30 million dollars through increased tourism and conservation from the artificial reefs.
“It is exciting to see this project move forward with such enthusiasm and backing from so many in our community,” Nancy Richie, city of Marco Island environmental specialist, said. “The collection of materials is ongoing, permit applications have been submitted, and bids on the project have been received. These are tremendous milestones in developing this world-class destination.” Anticipated construction will likely begin sometime in mid- to late-2014, pending United States Army Corp of Engineering permit approvals.
The Artificial Reef team us headed up by the Economic Recovery Task Force (ERTF) and long-time angler and local attorney, Peter Flood. The artificial reefs have been designed in consultation with Dr. Heywood Matthews, an oceanographer who has been building artificial reefs for more than 40 years. Marine Team International, Pure Naples and world-renowned film producers Scoular Images have joined the team to produce a “teaser” video for an upcoming documentary chronicling development of the project. Florida Power and Light is among the corporate sponsors that have pledged their support and participated in this effort, donating 3,000 of the 18,000 tons of material for the project.
A guiding principle of this project is to build the artificial reef system with a mix of private grant funds and private donations. As such, the project is funded by private donations to the Community Foundation of Collier County (CFCC) with a minimum contribution of $2,500, as well as a $1.3 million grant from British Petroleum awarded to the cities of Naples and Marco Island and Collier County. Long-time Collier County resident Elhanon and Sandy Combs have stepped forward to be the first community members to purchase an artificial reef module for a tax-deductible contribution of $2,500.
Reefs also can bear business or family names on nautical charts used by boating, fishing and diving enthusiasts. The Business/Family Legacy naming opportunity is limited to six donors with a minimum contribution of $100,000.
“Southwest Florida can be very excited that this world-class reef destination is a tremendous economic driver that will greatly improve the health of the Gulf,” Representative Kathleen Passidomo commented.
“The Community Foundation of Collier County has been thrilled to be included in an ecological and philanthropic effort from the start. This is a project that will have such a positive impact for the County and the ecosystem,” noted Eileen Connolly-Keesler, president and CEO of CFCC.
Anyone interested in securing Business/Family Legacy naming rights, in perpetuity, or contributing to the Artificial Reef Project may contact the Community Foundation of Collier County at http://www.cfcollier.org/artificial-reef-fund/ or 239-649-5000.