For the past six months, islanders have watched as the materials for the largest artificial reef project in the Western Hemisphere have been ferried out to a total of six Legacy Reef Locations.

Marco Island will have two of those Legacy Reefs, and within each of those will be six separate reefs consisting of 500 tons each of material. Both Collier County and the city of Naples will also have two Legacy Reefs. In all there will be 36 separate 500-ton reefs created.

Last week barges began transporting the materials that will make up the reef sites about nine miles off of the Marco Island coast.

The first barges began their work in January. The project is being completely funded by donations and a $1.3 million grant from the BP Oil Recovery Fund.

The use of cement construction materials -- culverts, piping, seawall panels and poles -- is seen as a better alternative to that of the old way of sinking derelict ships, said Diana Flagg, one of the hands-on volunteer project coordinators.

"The concrete materials have an estimated 900 year lifespan, compared to the 70-80 years of a steel ship, and we are still actively soliciting for material" said Flagg. Any material received must be of at least 500 pounds per section and have minimum rebar showing.

Studies have shown that the existing reefs in the area are somewhat overharvested, and many sit in areas of poor underwater visibility, providing fishing and diving enthusiasts reason to welcome this project.

This project is expected to inject an additional $30 million into the Southwest Florida economy.

Katie O'Hara, marketing manager for the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the project back in the fall when it was first announced.

"This really benefits everyone here in the business community by enhancing our ecotourism; hotel stays, restaurants and all our business base will benefit," O'Hara said.

It is anticipated that the work will continue on the project until late summer, and will take approximately 6-12 months before the reefs are showing their full potential for marine life.

Naming rights for the Marco Legacy Reefs are available and the reefs will be named in perpetuity for the generous donors. Smaller donations are also welcomed, and the information regarding the opportunities can be found at

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