Sea life flourishes in new offshore underwater condos

Ann Hall
Underwater photo taken on the Tod Sirod Reef (Collier 1 Reef) last month. “The giant anemones and Pederson Cleaner Shrimp that live among them were very prolific on the reefs last week during a dive down to the artificial reef where materials are being deployed,” said photographer and diver Katie Laakkonen.

Recently, a large barge carrying unknown cargo made its way down the Marco River with a colorful sunset backdrop.

A phone call to Katie Laakkonen, environmental specialist/ natural resources with the city of Naples, solved the mystery.

“This will be the last of the various donations being deployed to the artificial reefs for the year,” said Laakkonen.

Laakkonen, one of the primary divers for the offshore project, works closely with Chris D’Arco of Collier County’s coastal zone management department. D’Arco is also the county’s artificial reef coordinator.

The project, funded by a grant, is a cooperative venture among the cities of Marco Island and Naples and Collier County to create artificial reefs to improve aquatic life.

The undertaking is creating the “largest artificial reef in the western hemisphere,” said Laakkonen of the reef about 12 miles off the Collier Coast.

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Giant anemone on the Tod Sirod Reef, photo taken last month.

Custom-made materials

Unlike the majority of the material previously deployed to the artificial reefs off the coast, these last materials were actually custom-made, Laakkonen said.

According to Laakkonen, both the city of Naples and Collier County governments had a few donations left over for the year. These funds were used to create modules specially designed to enhance and supplement the reefs that were completed in the spring.

“The modules are made for the reef with cut-outs on the top to allow sea turtles to benefit from them as well as other sea life does,” said Laakkonen. Turtles and crustaceans use reefs as an important food source.

“This is kind of a second phase for the six permitted reefs in the project,” said Laakkonen. “Of the six, two are off Marco, two off Gordon Pass, and two parallel to Wiggins Pass. From now on in, additions to the existing reefs will be piecemeal as donations come in.”

Several weeks ago, the city of Naples sent out a barge with the custom-made modules to be added. The barge that the party attendees watched last week was full of materials given by the county.

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Doing what should be done

Much care is given to what is deployed, when and where, Laakkonen explained.

“We have to go out for a pre-deployment survey dive first. Next, we have to dive to be certain that the drop is in the right place. Then, we have to make a post-deployment dive to be sure that the reef is doing what it should be,” said Laakkonen.

From the looks of photos Laakkonen submitted to The News-Press, it looks like the sea life residents are flourishing in their new underwater condominiums.

The goals for the artificial reef project are to promote tourism and the seafood industry in Gulf waters after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

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Learn more about the reef

To learn more about the Gulf water reefs off the coast of Collier, please see the website maintained and updated by Chris D’Arco –