Florida Sea Grant agents like Jackson and Tiu live and work in coastal communities where they build strong relationships and trust. Coastal residents turn to agents for reliable science-based information and as sources of expertise for special projects, like artificial reefs.
When President Donald Trump proposed eliminating National Sea Grant funding as part of his 2018 budget request released in March 2017, 23 senators from 15 coastal states drafted a letter asking Trump to reconsider the $30 million cut to the program.
Native Floridian Reginald Paros drafted a response to the proposed cuts in a blog for Ocean Conservancy. “Growing up in Florida, I know these cuts mean more to my community than numbers on a spreadsheet,” he wrote. Paros continued, “For the past half a century, Sea Grant has helped to build and sustain the needs of coastal economies that may have otherwise faced dire times.”
In May, the President signed a bill to keep the program operating until September 2017.
What happens after September is uncertain.
“People who work in the program know that what we do is important, practical and responsive to the needs of people who live along the coast and coastal business,” said Karl Havens, director of Florida Sea Grant. “And we've had strong support in congress for the past 50 years.”
In other words, Floridians know the impact of artificial reefs reach further than what happens in the ocean, Havens said. Because impacts are felt on land, too.
Estimates are from the most recent economic analysis of artificial reef impacts funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
An artificial reef even led to the discovery of a strange new species glued to a ship's hull. The slime-spitting worm-snail, Thylacodes vandyensis, is nicknamed “Vandy” for the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. The retired naval vessel now serves as an artificial reef in the Florida Keys — a deliberate shipwreck. The reef is the only place the new worm-snails have ever been found.
The Vandenberg also took pressure off nearby reefs by providing recreational fishermen and divers with an alternative reef to frequent.
Reefs like the Voodoos and the Vandenberg will continue to support life for decades. Florida Sea Grant officials are confident their program will, too.
“We’re moving along with the program as though we’re going to continue on for many years,” Havens said.