Those of us who do any fishing in the Gulf of Mexico are keenly aware that our local artificial reefs can be crowded spots. Artificial reefs draw fishermen just as readily as they draw fish, and on a nice day in season, it can be tough to find a place to drop anchor.
So it was very welcome news when, way back in 2016, the Charlotte County chapter of CCA Florida announced plans for a new reef. While some of the early design plans fell through, CCA kept working with the state and eventually was awarded a 10-year permit to create what they hope will be one of the largest artificial reefs on Florida’s West Coast.
On Nov. 30, 2018, the first stage of the newly christened Phoenix Reef became reality. Approximately 125 tons high-quality concrete materials, including culverts and other concrete forms, were dropped in about 50 feet of water.
The reef is located about 12 miles due west of Boca Grande’s 17th Street (to be specific, 26° 45.582’, -82° 28.443’). Technically, this puts it in waters off Lee County, but it’s easily accessed from popular Charlotte County launches.
As artificial reefs go, the Phoenix is just a baby. Its 125 tons don’t measure up to other local reefs, such as the Jeff Steele with some 850 tons of concrete and Mary’s with more than 950 tons. But since the permit on the Phoenix Reef is open for 10 years, and the plan is to continue adding more material to make this the largest reef of its kind off Southwest Florida.
“When it was finally deployed, the excitement was incredible,” says Frank Gidus, director of habitat and environmental restoration for CCA Florida. “It involved a true community effort, with many people from the local area helping get the project completed, donating funds and providing various services.
“The project was designed from the beginning to involve 100 percent local businesses and individuals,” Gidus adds. “For instance, Manhattan Road and Bridge substantially discounted the cost of the barge and deployment, Coastal Precast donated all of the concrete materials that were deployed on the reef and Ingman Marine assisted with the entire planning process of the reef and provided boat support.
“This was a huge cost savings for a project like this, where all the funding was raised by the local community on behalf of a non-profit organization, to better their community and help the local economy in the long run.”
The chapter is now in the process of raising funds for expansion of the reef. It’s very costly — CCA chapter president Mike Brimer estimates just the barge to take out the next batch of material will run about $25,000, and the cost of concrete forms has yet to be determined.
“We want to make additions to the Phoenix Reef each year, making it large enough that many anglers can fish it without being in each other’s way,” says Brimer. “Whether it will happen that way is up to the anglers of Charlotte County.”
Gidus notes that in addition to the obvious benefits to fishermen, the project will also provide an economic boost for the local area.
“Recent studies conservatively estimate that for every dollar spent on artificial reefs, the economic benefit of artificial reef expenditure returns was $138,” he says. “This is especially important now, as Southwest Florida has experienced severe red tide blooms over the last couple of years, and as a result, has impacted the marine life and local economy in a negative way.”
The plan is to add to the reef every year, eventually growing it into a massive fish-attracting structure. But to be brought to fruition, these ambitious plans are going to take money.
“We’d like to make the Phoenix Reef one of the top nearshore fishing destinations in the area,” says Brimer. “We know that CCA Florida has our backs on this project, and it will definitely grow over time. But how much it grows depends on how much support we have from the community.”
Local boat dealer Ingman Marine has already pledged $10,000 toward the next stage of the reef’s development, but more funding is required. If you’d like to make a contribution to the future fishing and tourism success of this area, go to http://bit.ly/2XZ61E0 and make a donation today. No amount is too small — every dollar helps.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.