Update July 8:
On Friday, July 10, the South Walton Artificial Reed Association will be deploying an artificial reef off of Grayton Beach State Park.
There is an event planned with this deployment that will be at Grayton Beach State Park beginning at 10 a.m.
What started as a great idea is now coming to fruition for divers, snorkelers, and anglers seeking to explore the waters off the coastline of South Walton.
Local resident Andy McAlexander came up with the idea of bringing beach accessible artificial reefs near shore in the Gulf of Mexico in Walton County back in 2013. As founder of the non-profit organization, South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA), McAlexander together with board of directors Bill Horn, Patrick Murphy, Neill O’Connell, Jim Richard, Don Roberts, and Cindy Stenberg vigorously researched the benefits artificial reefs bring to our environment. With mentoring and guidance from the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association, SWARA developed a plan to install 13 environmentally safe reefs near shore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Plans were put in place, a “Founders” group provided funding for the lengthy permitting process, and in 2014, Walton County was allocated approximately $1,500,000 in National Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) funds for deployment of artificial reefs. Once received, the NRDA funds will provide for about 16% of the total planned structural deployments. However, with summer upon us, and NRDA funds not yet received due to continued procedural delays, the Walton County Tourist Development Council and Board of County Commissioners voted to assist in speeding up the deployment process with $150,000 grant funding. This supplements funding support from the St. Joe Foundation and the Alys Foundation, which together will be expended to deploy the first set of reefs off of Grayton Beach State Park.
With a target deployment launch date of July 1, quite a few area folks in Walton County are getting excited about the plan. The reefs are being manufactured in Orange Beach, AL. Each structure boasts a 10″ diameter fiberglass piling sunk deep in the seabed and springing up to a maximum profile height of no more than 10 feet at the deepest water depth, resulting in a minimum authorized depth clearance of -6 feet at mean low water (MLW). Limestone rocks are embedded in 5 ft. diameter concrete plates. The addition of limestone rocks is the most natural way to promote coral growth on the reefs according to McAlexander.
“I’ve never been more proud to be part of the community, everyone has been so positive and supportive of the project,” said McAlexander.
The 200′ wide x 800′ deep permitted reef site’s northern boundary is located approximately 350 ft. south of the Grayton Beach State Park shoreline.
To learn more about SWARA, click here.