Last year's first offshore deployment took place some 20nm west of Hernando Beach at the Bendickson Reef site. This site, known as “The Tanks,” is the home of ten US Army Sherman M-60 tanks and is already a popular destination for fisherman, scuba divers, and free divers. M-60 tanks are not commonly seen on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, so diving on these massive machines provide visitors with a very memorable underwater experience.
Last August over 650 tons of concrete material were deployed near the Army tanks at three different locations along the north side of the permitted reef track.
The material was added to create additional structure for fish habitat and to enhance diving opportunities at this popular destination. The three new areas create a trail of structures along the north side of the reef.
A wide range of fish friendly materials were deployed to maximize habitat quality, diversity, and vertical relief needed for increasing fish productivity. These included massive box culverts, numerous four to six foot wide round and elliptical concrete culverts, over 30 miscellaneous junction boxes and manhole basins, and approximately 210 smaller diameter concrete pipes ranging in size from 15 inches to 36 inches.
Custom fabricated pyramid modules and reef cubes constructed by the reef contractor (Coleen Marine) were also deployed increasing reef complexity that attracts and holds fish.
As an avid diver I would have to say that the most remarkable new structures to explore are the massive box culverts each weighing over 30,000 lbs. Each of these are inner stacked with smaller culverts creating all sorts of complex spaces for fish. Standing vertical 10 to 12 feet tall, these structures provide the greatest vertical relief, attracting large schools of baitfish.
Resting near the bottom on the sand divers can watch the schools of bait fish circling the structures above as they are under constant attack by Spanish mackerel and large mangrove snapper. Fish productivity around these structures is impressive, and it’s likely these structures will also attract king fish and amberjack in the fall and spring as the reefs become more established.
Moving closer to shore, three shallow snorkeling reefs were also created in November with deployment completed by Reef Innovations.
This project was the first of its kind within the Adventure Coast, creating shallow water high relief structures that provide maximum interstitial space needed for creating refuge areas for schooling baitfish and foraging areas for fish migrating in and out of the Weeki Wachee estuary.
Each site is comprised of a linear array of 1400 lb reefballs deployed in natural sand depressions with 57 reefballs deployed at the largest of the three sites, Site B.
Site C contains 53 reefballs and the smallest site, Site A, contains 25 reefballs. All of the sites are located within close proximity (2 to 3.5 miles) of the Bayport and Hernando Beach channel lighted entrances. These new aquatic habitats rest among sprawling seagrass meadows dotted with blue-eyed bay scallops.
The great thing about this area is water clarity; it's usually very good within the seagrass meadows, making the reefball reefs a great place to snorkel and view all types of marine life.