Capri residents watch barge's last deployment to offshore reef

Ann Hall

At a going-away party for several of the remaining snowbird residents who will be flying north for the summer, guests were treated to an unexpected and beautiful sight.

Capri residents living along the Marco River watch the final deployment of the year as the barge loaded with custom-made materials is moved out for a drop at the artificial reef off the coast of Marco Island.

Marilyn Carter’s first-floor condo in Capri’s LA Peninsula Condominium on the north side of the Marco River was the perfect viewing station for 24 attendees who gasped as if in awe as they watched a large barge carrying unknown cargo make its way down the river with a colorful sunset backdrop.

“What is that?” the guests asked among themselves as they fixated on the large barge being pushed along by a tug carrying what looked to be a full load of small identical windowed concrete pyramids.

Underwater photo taken on the Tod Sirod Reef (Collier 1 Reef) on April 6. “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 Laakkonen.

“We’ve seen structures sitting on the barge at the foot of the Marco River Bridge for some time,” said resident Dick VanDeelen, “but this load doesn’t look like the old concrete and limestone materials we have seen in the past.”

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

Giant anemone on the Tod Sirod Reef, photo taken on April 6.

Laakkonen is one of the primary divers for the project. She 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 coast.

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.

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 piece-meal 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.

Doing what it should be

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 for this Capri Connection story, it looks like the sea life residents are flourishing in their new underwater condominiums.

The residents of Isles of Capri have expressed their gratitude for the efforts taken to keep the fish and other marine life in their seas alive and well. Written in the History of the Isles of Capri as told by Rosanna Loach, first published in the March 1988 edition of the Timepiece, a publication of the Collier County Historical Society, her husband ‘Doc’ Loach, developer of the Isles of Capri wanted to create a fisherman’s paradise and a place where man and nature could live in harmony. 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 –