Broward County has 24 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. Coral reefs follow the coast offshore and are part of the Florida Reef Tract. The Florida Reef Tract extends from the Dry Tortugas to the St. Lucie Inlet, nearly 360 linear miles, making it the third largest barrier reef ecosystem in the world. Florida is the only state in the continental United States to have coral reefs close to the coast.
Broward County’s reef tract is divided into the Inner Reef, ranging from 20-30 feet in depth, the Middle Reef, ranging from 40-60 feet in depth and the Outer Reef, ranging from 50-100 feet in depth. This diverse range of reef habitat allow for an abundance of marine organisms to flourish. As a result, many snorkelers, divers and anglers enjoy the waters off Broward County.
These reef tracts are important as they are the foundation for the creation of marine habitat. Additionally, these reef tracts serve as a buffer to protect the shoreline from storm waves which cause beach erosion along with damage to the upland infrastructure (buildings and roads). The hard structure of the coral reef is mainly composed of the skeletons of stony corals. Stony corals are marine invertebrates, live organisms, and as they grow they form large mounds of calcium carbonate (the coral ‘skeleton’) that will eventually become harder substrate for other organisms, such as soft corals, sponges, algae, to settle on and grow. This is a gradual process as stony corals grow slowly, typically only 0.2 to 0.8 inches (0.5 to 2 centimeters) a year. The oldest and largest known coral colony in Broward County’s began its life in 1694 making it more than 300 years old, growing up to 15 feet in length and 9 feet high.
To help protect our coral reefs, the state of Florida passed the Florida’s Coral Reef Protection Act (CRPA) in 2009, making it illegal to anchor or otherwise damage coral reefs. The CRPA also authorized the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to pursue fines and compensations for any damage to the reefs. The Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division (EPCRD) is committed to ensuring that our marine resources are maintained in good condition by creating, assisting or managing various programs.
Beginning in the early 1980’s Broward County formed the Artificial Reef Program to enhance fishing and attract divers to the area. Since that time numerous shipwrecks and concrete reef structures have been deployed, fueling a significant economic engine in the region.
In 1989 Broward County’s Mooring Buoy Program
was created, providing locations on the reefs for small boats to tie up and fish or dive without causing reef damage.
In the 1997 Broward County started the Reef Monitoring Program where 25 permanent research sites were established offshore to study changes in the reef over time. This program was expanded with additional sites and to include the nearshore hard bottom just off the beach. This area is significantly impacted by storm conditions and subsequent beach erosion. This data provides a time series record of Broward County’s reef system.
Contributions and Partnerships
Broward County and Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Reef Injury Prevention and Response Program
(RIPRP) have been working together to restore reefs from ship groundings or anchor damage. Both agencies collaborated to redesign the commercial anchor zone offshore, so that ships would have more maneuvering room and be further away from the reefs. Now, both agencies join forces to support the Florida’s Coral Reef Protection Act
In 2003 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission created the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project
(SECREMP) which included permanent monitoring sites in Broward County. The sampling sites were chosen as representative of the three-reef tracts to monitor changes in the condition of coral reef and hard bottom habitat.
In 2004 Broward County EPCRD staff are also active participants in the FDEP led South Florida Coral Reef Initiative
(SEFCRI), which is a group of government, non-governmental, universities and private partners collaborating to identify and implement priority actions to reduce key threats to the coral reefs in Southeast Florida.
Since 2006 Broward County has been part of the Florida Reef Resilience Program
(FRRP) coordinated by The Nature Conservancy
(TNC) bringing scientist and resource managers together to develop management strategies for coping with ocean warming and other stresses on Florida’s coral reef. Every summer, when warm waters bring thermal stress to corals, EPCRD and others volunteer gather data using the FRRP Disturbance Response Monitoring
protocols, a sampling design monitoring stony coral.
In 2010 Broward County joined the efforts of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program
From 2012 to 2014 Broward County EPCRD coordinated the Coastal Ocean Task Force which created recommendations
to properly manage local natural resources. Task Force members included county and coastal city elected officials (Martin County southward thru Miami-Dade County) and stakeholders. Some of these recommendations have been implemented through state legislation.
In 2013 Broward County participated in the Our Florida Reefs
initiative coordinated by FDEP SEFCRI. This was a community effort of residents, reef users, business owners, visitors and Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Martin counties to discuss the future of the coral reefs in southeast Florida. Recommended management actions in the areas of education, outreach, enforcement, fishing, diving and boating were developed from these discussions.
Since 2015, Broward County joined FDEP, scientists and other agencies to find workable solutions for a coral disease outbreak
, extending from Martin County southward through the Florida Keys and recently reported in several spots in the Caribbean.
In 2018 the Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division joined the Disease Advisory Committee, a response group formed by FDEP, FWC, NOAA, neighboring counties, researchers and volunteer groups to try to combat this disease outbreak.
Help and Protect Our Coral Reefs
Now more than ever the coral reefs off Broward County need your help and protection. These past few years have seen corals ravaged by a disease outbreak that is decimating the reefs at an alarming rate. Within addition to disease, the coral reefs continue to be affected by other stressors, such as poor water quality, marine debris/plastics, fishing, and climatic changes.
Boaters, anglers, snorkelers, and divers know the importance that this fragile ecosystem has for our community. It is estimated that the Florida Reef system supports more than 70,000 jobs and $6 billion in annual income. A survey study from June 2000 to May 2001 concluded that in Broward County a total of 9.4 million residents and visitors visited natural and artificial reefs along the County’s shoreline. The same study showed that reef related expenditures generated $2.1 billion in annual revenue for the County. It is every users’ responsibility and obligation to help protect and educate those who do not know the importance and value of this ecosystem.
Tips to help protect our reefs:
Boaters and Anglers
Never anchor on coral reef or hard bottom. Preferably use the mooring buoys, but if you must anchor do so in sand bottom.
Do not throw trash or food into the water. Dispose and recycle
of it properly when back on shore.
Do not touch, harass or disturb any marine life.
Use environmental friendly sun protection, cleaning products and bottom paint on your boat.
Dispose of monofilament line in proper recycling receptacles, sponsored by the FWC program
Snorkelers and Scuba Divers
Take time to find the correct weight needed to maintain neutral buoyancy.
Maintain all gear tucked-in or clipped to avoid dragging on the reef.
Do not touch, harass or disturb marine life.
Use reef-friendly sun protection.
Properly clean gear between each dive.
Some trash can be picked up to help clean our reefs, like monofilament fishing line, bottles and cans. Larger or more unwieldy debris such as rope, anchors, or abandoned lobster traps can be reported.
Artificial Reef Program
Since 1982, Broward County has created over 150 artificial reefs off our shores. The reefs, which are designed to create new stable substrate, are constructed using three basic materials: concrete, steel, or limestone boulders. Therefore, artificial reefs can utilize environmentally suitable objects: ships, barges, oil rigs, concrete culverts, engineered concrete modules, or sculptures. These materials are placed at various depths where they quickly become habitat for a large number of marine organisms. Through the artificial reef program, the County is not only creating additional habitat for various marine organisms and fish, but are also protecting the reefs as boat anchors and scuba divers can cause physical damage to natural reefs by breaking coral or "uprooting" other attached marine animals. In other words, artificial reefs provide some relief from human-caused reef stressors.
The Artificial Reef Program provides benefits to our economy as well as our environment. Scuba divers travel around the world to explore and experience diving artificial reefs in many locations. Broward County has remained on the front lines as one of the best destinations worldwide for artificial reef exploration. In a socioeconomic study from June 2000 to May 2001, Broward County attracted almost 4 million users of artificial reefs, in which over 3 million were scuba divers. The same study concluded that in economic contributions, artificial reefs in Broward County generated $961 million in annual sales, $502 million in income and 17,000 full- and part-time jobs.
The Program relies on outside funding to create or enhance our underwater habitat. Broward County is the permit holder for artificial reef construction in designated areas and EPCRD has the experience and expertise to advise, guide, and create a successful project. Investors interested in creating, sponsoring and donating to the construction of an artificial reef in Broward County can email here to communicate with a program manager.
Broward County’s newest artificial reefs
|August 14. 2018||John Michael Baker Memorial Reef||12 concrete structures||70 feet||Fort Lauderdale||N 26° 09.482 W 80° 04.720|
|August 7, 2018||John Michael Baker Fishing Reef||570 tons of concrete material||150 feet||Fort Lauderdale||N 26° 09.457 W 80° 04.134|
|August 19, 2017||Okinawa||107 ft. long tugboat||70 feet||Pompano Beach||N 26° 13.9879 W 80° 04.215|
|September 28, 2016||Mt. Deerfield II||510 tons of limestone boulders||70 feet ||Deerfield Beach||N 26° 19.065 W 80° 03.720|
|July 23, 2016||Lady Luck||324 ft. long tanker ship||130 feet||Pompano Beach||N 26° 13.807 W 80° 03.807|
Not all artificial reefs are constructed within the maximum recreational depth limit. Scuba dive responsibly and conservatively, stay within your certification limits, follow proper safety protocols, plan dives accordingly and dive the plans.
Broward County assumes no responsibility for the use of artificial reefs.
Tire Removal Project
New ideas and materials to create artificial reefs for the enhancement of fishing and diving are always being created. Tires were one of those materials. The project started in the 1970’s offshore Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, by dumping bundles of tires, nearly two million, at a depth ranging from 60 to 70 feet for the purpose of creating fish habitat for fishing. Tires in the project site are estimated to cover more than 36 acres. At the time there was no knowledge that tires were an ineffective material for reef building. Soon after the reef was deemed a failure, measures had to be taken to fix it. Broward County has been working with State and Federal agencies to remove this failed project.
In June 2007, Broward County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and the U.S. military embarked on a monumental project to remove tires from the site. Over the course of 3 years, divers removed more than 70,000 tires (equivalent to 63 tractor-trailer loads).
This coral reef restoration project was unique in several ways. Each 2-man team of United States Army and Navy divers strung tires onto wire ropes which was then buoyed to the surface using 2-ton lift bags. The lift bags and tire bundles were then towed to a 175 foot Army ship termed a landing craft utility (LCU) where a crane was used to lift the bundles into open-top trailers on board the ship. Military personnel then removed the hardware and passed it out of the trailer to be used by other dive teams. Full trailers were regularly offloaded at Port Everglades and the FDEP managed recycling of the waste tires.
The Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division was the local partner providing project coordination and oversight. Port Everglades provided dockage and vessel support during the entire mission and the Parks and Recreation Division provided logistical support for the military equipment. While Broward County benefited from the military's efforts with a cleaner environment, the tire removal project also served as military training exercise through the Innovative Readiness Training Program
In 2015, a marine contractor, under agreement with FDEP, began a commercial operation to remove more tires from the artificial reef. Although a much smaller operation in terms of scale, funding from the State, Broward County, and a grant from NOAA's Marine Debris Program
, it is estimated that 100,000 tires will be removed over the course of a 2-year period. A 50 foot pontoon barge was equipped with a crane to hoist the tire bundled by a diver below. This technique proofed to remove an estimate of 550 tires per day. As with the previous projects involving the military, recovered tires are recycled as fuel in energy plants. This current project has the tires being transported to Polk County, FL to the Wheelabrator Ridge Energy Plant
Thanks to the coordination of EPCRD, FDEP, and funding from the State the program was renewed for a few more years. As of the end of 2018 this program has removed about 275,000 tires from the reef. Efforts and new ideas will continue to be implemented to rectify this situation.