Category Archives: Reef Ball Project

Chesapeake Bay First Reef Ball© Deployment

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources sponsored a 2003 field test to assess the suitability of Reef Balls for catching a natural oyster spat set. The Maryland Environmental Service contracted the project and coordinated and managed the deployment. The original plan was to place 75 Reef Balls in the oyster sanctuary east of Point Lookout. Since this was a field test rather than a fishing reef, Tom O’Connell, MD DNR ‘s sponsor, accepted my suggestion as project manager for MES, to split the deployment between 3 sanctuaries, thereby increasing the potential for a natural spat set. This decision resulted in one of the alternate sites in upper Tangier Sound receiving a natural spat set. This video shows the first deployment trip off Point Lookout. The thriving oyster reef that subsequently developed at the alternate site is documented by a Chesapeake Bay Foundation video made a decade later that is on the CBF website. It was this reef, a field trial at the Horn Point oyster hatchery for hatchery spat sets directly onto Reef Balls, Reef Ball pour training and demonstration project sponsored by MES and the Oyster Recovery Partnership on Tilghman Island for the Tilghman Island Fish Haven, collaboration by MES and CBF for early Reef Ball pours for Maryland Bay waters, and success of Reef Balls with hatchery spat set at CBF’s Shady Side oyster hatchery with deployment at Hollicutts Noose Fish Haven, that were the foundation for the current use of Reef Balls for oyster restoration and fishing reefs in Bay and tributary waters. Recent Reef Ball reefs include 240 Reef Balls at Winchester Lump in the Severn River and Reef Balls that were poured at National Harbor and placed in Smoot Bay on the tidal Potomac.



From Wade’s post on Facebook.

a video at Chesapeake Bay Fishing Reefs on Facebook about the first deployment of Reef Balls in Maryland Bay waters. This Reef Ball project laid the foundation for today’s projects in Bay and tributary waters, including the Reef Balls that were poured at National Harbor and placed in Smoot Bay. I had the good fortune to direct the first placement in the video and participate as a volunteer for the National Harbor pour.

April 26, 2018

First you place the Reef Balls,

sediment accumulates

then return and plant marsh grass.

Article retrieved from

Oyster Lake Shoreline Protection Project Completed

John Blaha

Oyster Lake Shoreline Protection Project Completed

June 2014—smooth cord grass being planted shoreward of reef ball breakwater. Photo by Lisa Laskowski.

Shoreline degradation is an ongoing issue that challenges coastal habitat up and down the Texas coast. Shoreline degradation is the result of many issues, some manmade and others natural. Manmade issues include development, the creation of channels through sensitive marsh for commercial purposes, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and others. Natural issues include consistent prevailing winds impacting shorelines, hurricanes, winter storms and other effects of Mother Nature.

CCA Texas’s Habitat Today for Fish Tomorrow (HTFT) program has taken part in several projects that were implemented to protect eroding shorelines, re-nourish shorelines and to prevent the breaching of one ecosystem into another. These projects include a joint effort with Ducks Unlimited Texas and others for shoreline protection along the ICW in the JD Murphree Wildlife Management Area and along the ICW just north of the San Bernard River where important fresh water marsh lakes were being threatened by salt water intrusion from the ICW. CCA Texas also worked with Ducks Unlimited and others in Cow Trap Lake (Brazoria County) where marsh shorelines where losing ground to the elements yearly. Other efforts included those with TPWD in Bird Island Cove in West Galveston Bay and Snake Island Cove with the Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF), also in West Galveston Bay.

The latest effort to help protect and restore shoreline degradation was recently completed on the far western end of West Galveston Bay along the Oyster Lake shoreline. This shoreline separates West Galveston Bay from Oyster Lake, a sensitive estuary lake accessible from the ICW and connecting creeks from Bastrop Bay. Over time, it is estimated that over 650 feet of shoreline has been lost on the West Galveston Bay side, and 150 feet on the Oyster Lake side since the 1940s due to prevailing wind, currents and hurricanes. Furthermore, the rate of erosion appeared to be accelerating, as since 1995, up to 175 feet of shoreline was lost on the West Bay side and 55 feet from Oyster Lake side. This project was a multi-phase undertaking that used different types of breakwaters designed specifically for shoreline protection and re-nourishment, and stretches across approximately 5,200 linear feet of critical habitat.

Phase I of the project placed 950 feet of shoreline breakwater along the West Galveston Bay and Oyster Lake shorelines. Another 500 linear feet of reef balls were place along the West Galveston Bay shoreline in a 3-wide configuration, and an additional 450 linear feet along the Oyster Lake shoreline in September 2013. The impacts of the breakwater were seen quickly and between September 2013 and June 2014 in the natural deposition of 1,100 cubic yards of material accumulating behind the breakwaters, thereby triggering the rebuilding process. In June 2014, volunteers planted more than 2,000 smooth cord grass sprigs covering .75 acres in the area between the existing shoreline and the breakwater on the West Galveston Bay side. This cord grass was provided by project partner NRG and, since the original planting, the grass has been spreading and filling in the entire planted area.

Phase II construction began in October 2015. This phase of the project utilized limestone riprap to form the breakwater. This breakwater was built in segmented fashion to allow water to flow freely in and out behind the breakwater and deposit materials that will eventually rebuild the shorelines. Phase II was completed in early January 2016 and 4,786 feet of breakwater that protects 5,150 feet of shoreline are now in place to protect Oyster Lake and the vital ecosystem services that it provides. The final steps in the project are to accomplish baseline data collection for annual monitoring and developing a grass planting strategy for the entire project.

Partnerships are crucial in completing projects such as these and CCA Texas is proud to have been a part of the project through the direct contribution of $200,000. This was important as it established groundwork for GBF to secure another $270,000 in matching dollars. These funds along with other funds from project partners bring together many groups in the common cause to help protect and restore vital coastal habitat along the Texas coast. Project partners included Galveston Bay Foundation, CCA Texas, Ducks Unlimited, NOAA, Texas General Land Office, Galveston Bay Estuary Program, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s – Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

March 18, 2018

It is great to see Hernando County moving along with some great projects.  Not all are big fish attractors but habitat for all the essential fish to help make the Gulf of Mexico a great system.
Article retrieved from the Hernando Sun

Hernando County: a leader in artificial reef development

 March 16, 2018 – 01:17

Since 1990 Hernando County has been active in artificial reef development. Funding is provided by a combination of federal, state and local government, as well as private funds. This is done through the Division of Marine Fisheries Management of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The FWC assists in developing these reefs, enhancing existing reefs that are already successful and to monitor and assess artificial reefs. According to Frank Santo, chairman of the Hernando County Port Authority, there has been a a large grassroots effort by Hernando County which has had a huge impact on Hernando County’s marine system. These state and federal programs are driven by the recognition of benefits for commercial fishing and tourism. Commercially important fish and sports species are frequently attracted to the artificial reefs for the food source and shelter they provide. As larger fish species migrate through the area in the spring and fall the artificial reefs provide shelter, food and resting areas for such fish as albacore, king fish, Spanish mackerel and cobia. Artificial reefs remain very popular with the fishing public and contribute significantly to local economies.

There are numerous considerations for artificial reef placement. Some individuals may be concerned that artificial reef structures may dislodge and be a detriment to the shore. According to research by Ryan Fikes Staff Scientist, with the Gulf Restoration Campaign National Wildlife Federation in an article in November 2013 titled Artificial Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico: A Review of Gulf State Programs & Key Considerations, artificial reefs need to be placed in clear shallow water with good light. “Water depth at the reef site may critically affect reef material stability and long-term structural integrity” when considering wave conditions. “The reef materials and designs should be properly matched to water depth and predicted wave conditions to ensure their stability. Planning for worst-case storms may need to be considered on sites where movement of materials would be detrimental or hazardous”. The reef material design needs to be matched to the water depth and predicted wave condition to resist breakup, movement or burial. Detailed engineering is important for the success of an artificial reef.

There are few natural reefs in Hernando County and they tend to be over-fished. So artificial reefs allow distribution, growth, and protection of marine life. This relieves the pressure on the natural reefs. Due to the importance of site placement, careful planning and permitting is required as artificial reefs need to be placed near seagrass beds but have to be at least 150 feet away. Hernando County has a rich seagrass bed of 190,000 acres. The bottom is flat and sandy with seagrass interspersed between hard bottom areas. Hernando County seafloor has no structure only flat with occasional holes. Naturally occurring reefs develop over hard, rocky bottoms. Areas between natural reefs are often loose sand that supports marine grasses, such as eelgrass or turtle grass. The seagrass beds support many species and are important in the ecology of adjacent reef systems, providing foraging and breeding sites for reef fish. They provide food, habitat, and nursery areas for numerous vertebrate and invertebrate species. They are the ideal environment for juvenile and small adult fish for escape from larger predators. Many small organisms live in the soft sea bottom like crabs, clams, and starfish for protection from currents. Initial monitoring of new artificial reefs which are placed near seagrass indicate after testing of the first week, there are already juvenile grouper living on the reef.

Much research has been completed internationally in regards to the benefits of artificial reef development. Researchers Gary M. Serviss and Steven Sauers, who were the principal investigators in a detailed research article published in 2003, Sarasota Bay Juvenile Fisheries Habitat Assessment, proved positive impact of these reefs. Although they found the natural reef sites had a higher density of resident and transient species, the artificial sites had a slightly higher mean density of nursery fish. Monitoring indicated that the habitats are doing fairly well when compared to that of the natural habitat types. Their research found that many of the reef-dependent species such as tomtate, gray snapper, and gag grouper were observed and this also held true for the commercially important stone crab. The researchers also found that the diversity of the species tended to increase with the complexity of the material. More crevices provided more safety from predators. Also, the older the artificial reef the higher the diversity of adult fish and fewer juveniles. They found the less uneven surfaces like “concrete block, generally did not provide the number of protected spaces needed for some of the species to successfully habitate. This material type generally had low numbers and low species diversity. However, increasing the complexity of a concrete block pile with the presence of reef balls greatly improved the diversity and numbers of fish species present.” This resulted in a wide variety of different species with four size classes, from the early juvenile stage of some up to the largest adult stages.

Mr. Santo stated that initially there was not much interest in the community for these projects, but now our county administrators have realized these artificial reefs have increased tourism and have had a sound environmental impact. As a result, Hernando County is getting respect among fisherman and the state for the advancement of protecting and enhancing our very important marine system.

There are currently a number of artificial reefs in Hernando County which include but are not limited to, Bendickson Reef where there are 10 M60 army tanks placed in 1995, these are now overgrown with sea and fish life. Permits were recently approved and an additional 600 tons were added to the reef. Monitoring will be provided by FWC and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and US Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE). The Florida artificial reef program is the only state program that is not exclusively run at a state agency level. FWC depends on its partnership with local counties to hold reef permits and manage new reef deployments.

Another artificial reef is reef project #1 which is a shallow reef project with 130 reef balls in 3 different spots. These aHre carefully researched locations. Monitoring is planned for April 15th by the Scubanauts, who are coming to assess the fish populations and new life growing on the artificial reef. The Scubanauts are students in a marine science education for young men and women, ages 12-18. These young marine scientists receive informal science education through underwater exploration focusing on diving experience, and personal development. Hernando County is fortunate to have these young scientists available to assist our community in our marine research.

Hernando County is also in the process of investigating 20 different sites where the next batch of material will be placed. The reef ball material is available and site planning and permitting is ongoing. Permitting is the responsibility of the ACOE in federal waters and by both the ACOE and the FDEP in state waters. Both agencies work with the FWC during the artificial reef application process. Sponsorships are now being offered through the Hernando Environmental Land Protectors (HELP). HELP is a not-for-profit corporation created in 1976 and is one of the oldest established environmental organizations in Hernando County. Through this organization, an individual or business can sponsor a reef ball. The reef balls will include permanent commemorative plaques and the location coordinates will be provided to the sponsors so they may visit their reef in the future. The sponsored reefs will also provide educational opportunities, as well as great fishing spots. All deployments will be monitored by Scubanauts International and data analyzed by the students of the University of Florida and other research institutions. Artificial reef projects are monitored by a variety of sources such as the Scubanauts, and sonar imaging of the seafloor and remotely operated underwater video. These assessments include fish censuses and mapping, reef spacing and design, material stability, storm impacts and comparisons of artificial reef fish communities with those on adjacent natural reefs.

Approval has also been received for development of an oyster reef and habitat restoration project in Centipede Bay. Research has proven that placement of oyster shell in bags will stimulate the growth of juvenile oysters, improve water quality and reduce shoreline erosion. On March 11, community volunteers loaded bags of specially processed and disinfected oyster shell to be returned to the sea for oyster regeneration. This was sponsored by UF /IFAS extension. Oyster beds are dying in the state of Florida because of freshwater intrusion and lack of nutrients. Hernando County has a rich area of nutrients. The tentative launch date for the oyster beds is April 2018.

Florida is responding to fisheries and habitat decline with one of the nation’s most progressive artificial reef program, with Hernando County being one of the leaders in the state.

For information on sponsored reefs, contact Frank Santo 352-200-0493 /

Hernando County back into building Reef Balls  after a 23 year break.

Hernando Times Article.


SCUBAnauts volunteers assist with artificial reef project off Hernando coast


Hernando County’s multi-part plan to boost local waterways through artificial reef projects kicked off last month when more than 600 tons of concrete material were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico atop the existing Bendickson Reef.

On Sunday, the second part of the project — involving reef balls, or man-made concrete structures used to repair ailing reefs and promote healthy habitats for fish — got moving, too, much of it with the help of some unlikely volunteers.

Seventeen youth ages 12 to 18 from SCUBAnauts, a local marine science education program founded in 2001, gathered in Hernando Beach to create four reef balls to be dropped into the gulf next month.

County Commissioner Wayne Dukes says the structures will find their resting place in shallow waters, creating a reef fit for recreational activities, like fishing, snorkeling and diving, to help the county to live up to its newly adopted “Adventure Coast” slogan.

He says data from the state shows an $8 dollar return on every dollar spent on artificial reefs, resulting from increases in commercial and recreational water activities supported by the expansions.

“This is going to bring a lot more recreational opportunities to Hernando County, and that is good for the quality of life of our residents and tourists,” he said.

Dukes tipped his hat to the SCUBAnauts volunteers, whose involvement in the county’s plans began months ago, when they were enlisted by county waterways manager Keith Kolasa to do standardized underwater surveys of proposed reef sites.

While waterway projects are mostly fueled by the county’s $14 million BP settlement from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the gulf, county officials say those dollars are still stretched tight and only available in increments over a 15-year payout period.

Without SCUBAnauts, the county would have had to hire scientists to survey the sites for information required to get project permits and move forward, while services from the group were free.

“I give them all the credit. … They have helped us tremendously through this whole process,” Dukes said. “Their volunteer services have saved us both time and revenue.”

SCUBAnauts president and CEO Paul Foisy said in his mind, the partnership helps his organization just as much as it has helped the county.

“This isn’t something your typical teenager does, and a lot of them don’t even realize the magnitude of what they are doing,” Foisy said, adding that the group also does regular survey work in the Florida Keys. “We are all about hands-on experience. … This is that.”

SCUBAnauts member Diana Phillips, 15, said the best part about helping communities like Hernando County with waterway projects is knowing how long-lasting her work will be.

“Us being kids and being able to make something that will last hundreds of years is a big deal,” Phillips said. “It’s good for our future and the community’s future at the same time.”

Much of the funding for Sunday’s project came from 19-year-old Cole Kolasa, son of Keith Kolasa and a longtime SCUBAnauts member who now attends the University of Central Florida. Over the summer, he kayaked from the Florida Panhandle to the Everglades while blogging and collecting donations for the county’s reef projects.

Kolasa raised about $3,200, which was used to purchase the four reef ball molds used by SCUBAnauts, as well as concrete and other materials.

Once the reef balls are dropped, Foisy said, the SCUBAnauts members will return regularly to monitor them. Kolasa, a sophomore marine biology major, said he will, too, and hopes to have the university study the sites and their effect on seawater in the area.

“It’s really exciting what is happening, especially because I grew up in Hernando County and now I am able to do research and actually be able to make a difference and see results,” he said. “I’m excited to see change actually happening.”

Contact Megan Reeves at Follow @mareevs.

SCUBAnauts volunteers assist with artificial reef project off Hernando coast 09/28/17 [Last modified: Thursday, September 28, 2017 1:16pm] 

Students are involved in Reef Ball Production

June 20 2017 Chesapeake Bay Magazine

Tilghman Manmade Reef to Double in Size

On Wednesday, 140 concrete reef balls will be planted on the Tilghman Reef, off Tilghman Island.

Reef balls were first deployed in 2016. Photo: CCA Maryland

Reef balls were first deployed in 2016. Photo: CCA Maryland

The reef balls were built by students in STEM education programs, in Carroll and and Anne Arundel counties as well as Vienna, Virginia. The addition of the new reef balls will double the current size of the reef, making it one of the largest man-made, three-dimensional reefs in the Maryland part of the Bay.

The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Maryland and Northern Virginia Chapters and the Building Conservation Trust, CCA’s National Habitat Program, will plant the reef balls.

Half of the 140 reef balls being deployed this summer were set with oyster spat. When the reef was started a year ago, just 72 reef balls were deployed. Stevenson University scientist Dr. Keith Johnson is monitoring the reef. Dr. Johnson estimates there were up to 2,000 juvenile oysters in each reef ball that was deployed last July.

The reef provides habitat for fish, oysters and other filter feeders. It also attracts fish, making it a great spot for recreational fishing.

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland posted this sonar shot of the reef ball deployment from July 2016. Just one year later you can see the they are productive habitat holding fish.

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland posted this sonar shot of the reef ball deployment from July 2016. Just one year later you can see the they are productive habitat holding fish.

CCA invites folks to join in this time around: Wednesday June 21, 2017 for our next deployment and be part of the fun and help the bay! See for details.


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From the Baltimore Sun

A broad partnership led by the Maryland and Virginia chapters of the Coastal Conservation Association, a group of recreational anglers, dumped nearly 150 of them overboard just off the shores of Tilghman Island. They were laid alongside 72 reef balls that were dropped last year.

The project united the anglers with environmentalists, business sponsors and students for a common objective: cleaning the Chesapeake for the sake of its ecology and for its economic power.

The strategy for restoring the bay’s oyster population has become divisive in recent years, with debates over where watermen should be allowed to harvest and how much of the shellfish population should be held in sanctuary.

Projects such as the Tilghman Island reef show the industry and science don’t have to be at odds, said Del. Robert Flanagan, who joined Schoberg and two Carroll County teachers Wednesday to watch the new reef be built.

“We can have sanctuaries and still have this thriving industry,” the Ellicott City Republican said. “We can do both.”

The Coastal Conservation Association funded the $20,000 project largely through its Building Conservation Trust, a program that aims to restore or create new habitats for fish and other marine organisms.

It pulled in the support of groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation whose ship, the Patricia Campbell, was used to ferry and drop the reef balls, and companies like Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group, which supplied the concrete, said David Sikorski, executive director of the association’s Maryland chapter.

And they employed the labor of students from across the bay watershed — including a handful of Carroll County schools, the Anne Arundel Center For Applied Technology North, and James Madison High School in Vienna, Va.

About half of the reef balls planted Wednesday were each covered in about 2,000 baby oysters, grown by the bay foundation at its Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side. That made them already a dingy gray as the ship’s crane lowered them into the bay, four at a time.

Students made the reef balls with fiberglass molds developed by Georgia-based nonprofit the Reef Ball Foundation. They mixed the concrete, poured it in the molds and waited for them to set.

Underwater surveys and photos of last year’s reef balls show an area of bay bottom that would otherwise be barren sand is teeming with life. They are part of an 84-acre artificial reef that also contains bridge decking, tires and granite, according to the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative, a program of the state natural resources department.

Allison Sweeney and Bethany Baer, fourth-grade teachers at Elmer Woolfe Elementary School in Union Bridge, said the project came amidst lessons about bay ecology and water quality and about the history of Maryland’s seafood industry. The two tagged along Wednesday to snap photos to share with their students.

“In social studies we talk about the job of the bay,” Sweeney said. “We talked about how our natural resources affect what we can do in our society.”

The lessons stuck with Schober. She remembered seeing pictures of massive piles of oyster shells, from back when there were nearly 100 times more of the bivalves across the bay.

“Now there’s just barely any left,” she said.

But one of her favorite lessons was about the Chesapeake “Oyster Wars,” conflicts in the late 1800s and early 1900s between watermen and pirates who dredged for oysters illegally. That conflict, and the ongoing struggles of watermen on the bay, taught her the economic importance of oyster harvesting.

“You can’t say ‘don’t do it for a month,’ because some people make their money that way,” Schober said.

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