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South Walton's First Artificial Reefs Installed at Grayton Beach State Park

July 10, 2015 by Manny Chavez

Thanks to the hard work of a dedicated group of locals, South Walton has added an entire layer of recreation through artificial reef environments. The South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) has installed the first set of near shore reefs off our beaches.

 

 

The group, led by local resident Andy McAlexander, has been hard at work since 2013 obtaining all the permits, funding, and cooperation needed to bring a whole new world to SoWal here along our shores.

McAlexander describes the process as a “journey, or literally like summiting a mountain,” with everyone on board doing what had to be done to move the ball forward. “Without our board members and the strength of the community, we would not be here today,” says Andy. “We have momentum on our side now.”

 

Donna Amend: Assistant to Board of Directors; Andy McAlexander: SWARA President / Founder

 

Walton County’s reefs will be beach accessible for snorkeling, diving, kayaking, paddle boarding, and swimming…without the need for boat and motor. The artificial reefs are constructed of concrete and Florida limestone and provide a natural habitat environment for multiple species of fish. A bare sand bottom will not support the growth of coral and only a few species of fish linger there.

The initial reefs were transported by barge from Orange Beach, Alabama to just offshore of Grayton Beach State Park (approximately 400 feet from shore). Around 58 towers will be embedded within the reef system, each having its own GPS coordinates for easy location.

“We will soon be able to see soooo many more species of fish near the living reef habitat. Sea Turtles, for example, like to wedge themselves up against bottom objects and they can’t do that presently with just sand on the bottom,” explains Andy. "Turtles are not ‘free floaters’, they like to wedge themselves up against something and take a nap.”

The reef mudules will probably take about two days to deploy, weather permitting. It may take a return barge trip to finish the project. Interest in the project is beginning to build and Andy and company can’t wait. “People on the beach will be able to see the deployment activity and share in the excitement. Within six months, over 50 percent of fish species will be hanging around,” says Andy.

 

 

SWARA memorial reefs will be obtainable from the organization. Families, groups and organizations can purchase marble plaques to be permanently attached to the reefs and the reef coordinates can be published on the SWARA web site and incorporated into local nautical maps. Donations can be made to the organization on an individual, family, or corporate level. Donation monies will help with the future construction and maintenance of the living reef structures.

A ribbon-cutting accompanied deployment on July 10th at Grayton Beach State Park. The original Founders Club members (Walton County TDC, Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Florida, Alys Foundation, Howard Group, and Stinky’s Fish Camp) and everyone associated with the project is looking forward to the day.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Andy. I can only say thank you to everyone. You know who you are and no one appreciates your contribution more than me. Be safe, be smart, be wise, nature is not benign…enjoy it.”

 

Andy pointing out artificial reef locations in South Walton.

 

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Please become a Friend of SWARA! Donate and join the organization. Get involved and help build artificial reef habitats for marine life, establish coastal sandbar snorkeling reefs and near shore fish habitat diving reefs, and maintain these reefs in our waters for years to come.

The South Walton Artificial Reef Association is a grass-roots, non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the construction, deployment, and monitoring of permitted artificial reefs in Walton County's Gulf of Mexico coastal waters for the benefit and health of environment and community. For more information about SWARA visit the website at www.waltonreefs.org. Follow South Walton Artificial Reef Association on Facebook for reef updates and deployment events.

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Manny Chavez

Manny and his wife Kris moved to the Emerald Coast in 1992. After 16 years as staff photographer for The Houston Post, Manny has successfully transitioned to creative weddings and beach portraits.

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