Broward County has 24 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. Submerged offshore and running north to south are three distinct lines of coral reefs which are part of the great Florida Reef Tract. Florida is the only state in the continental United States to have coral reef formations close to the coast. 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.
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 ecosystems makes it suitable for an abundance of marine organisms to flourish. For these reasons many snorkelers, divers and anglers enjoy the waters off Broward County.
These reef tracts are important as they serve as a buffer to protect the shoreline from storm surges which cause beach erosion and they are the foundation for the creation of marine habitat. In this hard substrate corals, sponges, algae, invertebrates and other marine organisms settle to create their homes. A coral polyp is a marine invertebrate, a live organism, and when many of the same kind join they form a colony. Throughout the years, these colonies are the basis of creating large structures and building up the hard bottom by leaving behind their skeletons which are made of calcium carbonate. Stony corals are slow growing, 0.2 to 0.8 inches (0.5 to 2 centimeters) a year. The oldest and largest coral colony in Broward County’s was born 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 in 2009, Florida passed the Florida’s Coral Reef Protection Act
(CRPA) making it illegal to anchor or otherwise damage coral reefs. The CRPA also authorizes the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to pursue fines and compensations for any damage to the reefs. The Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division (EPCRD) is committed to ensure that our resources underwater are maintained in good condition for future generations to enjoy by creating, assisting or managing various programs.
Early 1980’s Broward County formed the Artificial Reef Program to enhance fishing and attract divers to the area.
In 1989 Broward County’s Mooring Buoy Program
was created providing a safe way for boaters to enjoy the reefs without causing reef damage.
In the 1980’s Broward County started the Reef Monitoring Program where 25 permanent research sites offshore where monitored periodically. Later in 1997 the program was contracted out, so that the sites would be continuously monitored to note the number and types of corals, sponges and fish, as well as sediment sampling. This data provides a time series record of Broward County’s reef system.
Contributions and Partnerships
Ever since ships were entering Port Everglades, Broward County and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Coral Reef Conservation Program and 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 room and be further away from our natural resources. Now, both agencies join forces to support the Florida’s Coral Reef Protection Act
In 2003 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission created the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project
(SECREMP) in which part was conducted in Broward County. The sampling sites were chosen as representative of the three-reef tract to monitor the condition of coral reef and hardbottom habitat.
Later Broward County joined FDEP 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) from The Nature Conservancy
(TNC) bringing scientist and reef managers to develop management strategies for coping with ocean warming and other stresses on Florida’s coral reef. Every summer, a period of thermal stress for corals, EPCRD volunteers to gather data using FRRP Disturbance Response Monitoring
a sampling design monitoring stony coral.
Since 2010 Broward County joined the efforts of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program
Since 2012 Broward County EPCRD volunteers to gather data for NOAA National Coral Reef Monitoring Program
using the Rapid Visual Census (RVC) method which calculates fish population and diversity in the local waters. This is part of a more expansive program effort under NOAA Coral Reef Information System
(CoRIS) under the federal Coral Conservation Program.
From 2012 to 2014 Broward County EPCRD was part of the Coastal Ocean Task Force which created recommendations to properly manage local natural resources. Some of these recommendations has since passed to the Legislature.
In 2013 Broward County participated in the Our Florida Reefs
hosted by FDEP SEFCRI. This was a community of residents, reef users, business owners, visitors and counties like Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Martin to discuss the future of the coral reefs in southeast Florida. From these discussions originated recommended management actions that in time can benefit education, outreach, enforcement, fishing, diving and boating.
Since 2015 Broward County has been in the front lines providing expertise, support and collaborating with scientist and other agencies in trying to get ahead of the recent coral disease outbreak
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 Reef
Now more than ever the coral reefs off Broward County need your help and protection. These past few years corals have been attacked by a disease outbreak that is decimating them at an alarming rate. Along with this disease the coral reefs continue to combat other battles like poor water quality, marine debris, plastics and radical changes in temperature.
Boaters, anglers, snorkelers and divers know the importance that this fragile ecosystem has over our community. It is estimated that the Florida Reef system supports more than 70,000 jobs and $6 billion in income. A survey study from June 2000 to May 2001 concluded that in Broward County a total of 9.44 million residents and visitors visited natural and artificial reefs. The same study showed that reef related expenditures generated $2.1 billion in 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.
Here are some tips to help protect our reefs:
• Never throw anchor on coral reef or hardbottom. Preferably use the mooring buoys, but if you must anchor find sand.
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, including corals.
• Use environmental friendly cleaning products and bottom paint on your boat.
Dispose of monofilament line in proper recycling receptacles, sponsored by 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 line, bottles and cans. Larger or more complicated debris, like rope, anchors, abandoned lobster traps can be reported
Here are some links for more information:
Artificial Reef Program
Since 1982, Broward County has created over 150 artificial reefs off our shores. The reefs, which are designed to create a new stable substrate, are constructed using three basic materials: concrete, steel or limestone boulders. Therefore, artificial reefs can utilize environmentally suitable objects like: 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, we are 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 stressor relieve to the natural reefs.
The Artificial Reef Program provides benefits to our environment as well as our economy. Scuba divers travel around the world to explore and experience diving artificial reefs. Broward County has maintained in 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 3.98 million users of artificial reefs, in which 3.02 million were scuba divers. The same study concluded that in economic contributions, artificial reefs in Broward County generated $961 million in sales, $502 million in income and 17,000 full- and part-time jobs.
The program relies on outside investors interested in creating or enhancing our underwater habitat. Broward County is the permit holder for artificial reef construction designated areas and EPCRD has the experience and expertise to advise, guide and create a successful project. Investors interested in creating, sponsoring and donating 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||1 2 concrete structure pieces||70 feet||Fort Lauderdale|
|August 7, 2018||John Michael Baker Memoial Reef||570 tons of concrete material||150 feet||Fort Lauderdale|
|August 19, 2017||Okinawa||107 feet long tugboat||70 feet||Pompano Beach|
|September 28, 2016||Mt. Deerfield II||510 tons of limestone boulders||70 feet||Deerfield Beach|
|July 23, 2016||Lady Luck||324 feet long tanker||130 feet||Pompano Beach|
Tire Reef 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.
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 estimated the removal of about 200,000 tires from the reef. Efforts and new ideas will continue to be implemented to rectify this situation.
Dive Location Videos
Florida Artificial Reef Locations
Socioeconomic Study of Reef Resources in Southeast Florida and Florida Keys (PDF - 10 MB)
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