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Thousand Reef Challenge kicks off on the beach

By Staff | May 1, 2019

A challenge to help clean and flourish Florida waterways kicked off last Friday at Fish-Tale Marina on Fort Myers Beach.

Ocean Habitats Inc. launched the Thousand Reef Challenge, an initiative to help clean coastal waters via the “Mini Reef”- an artificial reef structure developed by Ocean Habitats founder David Wolff, a Southwest Florida native, that is designed to attract and produce marine life, as well as filter as much as 30,000 gallons of water per day once established.

“We strive to fulfill our mission of bringing coastal waters to life,” Wolff said. “You look around the canals and it’s a biological desert everywhere. It’s amazing what’s growing on our units in these same canals.”

Ocean Habitats Mini Reefs are installed under docks and are constructed from fiber-glass, PVC pipe, polypropylene rope and crab-trap floats. A Mini Reef can grow more than 300 fish and more than 200 crabs per year and lasts for 10-plus years, Wolff said.

They can be used in freshwater, saltwater or brackish water.

Along with the Thousand Reef Challenge, the One Reef Project will work in conjunction to track the progress.

“The One Reef Project will track what we are doing – how much water is being filtered, how many units are going in and how many fish are being produced,” Wolff said.

The Thousand Reef Challenge looks to sponsors to donate toward funding the installation of 1,000 new Mini Reefs in local waters throughout the summer months.

“We couldn’t be more excited to participate in the Thousand Reef Challenge,” said Fish-Tale Marina owner Al Durrett. “As a State of Florida Clean and Resilient Marina, along with having Fish-Tale Waterfront Dining designated as an Ocean Friendly Restaurant, this project demonstrates our ongoing commitment to protecting our waters.”

Fish-Tale Marina officials donated $10,000 toward the challenge on their own.

Wolff said the idea stemmed from Marco Canvas & Upholstery asking if they could buy Mini Reefs in bulk and donate them to each customer.

Wolff thought it was a great idea, and began thinking about others out there who may want to do something similar.

“There’s people who are looking for a way to make a difference. Let’s go find them,” Wolff said.

Estero-based Lane Insurance soon followed. Now, Wolff hopes local business leaders will catch on.

“The goal is to help bring awareness to people (whose) companies (are) trying to make a difference that interact with the waterfront. There are companies who want to make a difference that don’t interact with the waterfront. We’re all in this together. Our environment around us needs help. There are people who are already stepping up and we’re looking for more just like them to help make this happen,” said Wolff.

The device floats under your dock out of sight. All there is to do is sit back and enjoy the benefits of cleaner water and marine life growth, Wolff said.

More than 50 types of fish have been spotted in or around reef install sites, not to mention blue and stone crab.

Wolff said more than 150 filter-feeders such as sea squirts and oysters grow on the reef, which in turn, attracts all kinds of species you might not normally see.

“Can this solve all problems coming in from the Caloosahatchee River? No,” Wolff said. “But, could it make it a lot better? Absolutely. Could it help the area recover faster after a problem? Absolutely.”

Florida Gulf Coast University Marine and Ecological Studies associate professor James Douglass was also on hand to give his support for the challenge.

“When we think of reefs, we usually think of the sparkling coral waters of the Florida Keys, but many don’t realize that we have reefs in the muddy waters of Estero Bay as well,” Douglass said. “The reef is not made of coral, but made of oysters and muscles and barnacles and other organisms called filter-feeders. These are great organisms in the environment because they eat the particles of algae out of the water, and they can help control harmful algae blooms like the red tide we had last summer. If we just give (filter-feeders) a place to live, they can help clean up the water.”

Wolff studied marine biology at The University of Southern Florida and initially worked on the concept in the late ’90s.

Funding for the project dried-up, so he decided to pursue a career in real estate.

Years later, he sold off his businesses to pursue something he had a passion for.

Ocean Habitats also has a “reef” specifically designed for freshwater, called “The Fish Crib.”

The Mini Reef is 24 inches wide, 36 inches long and 24 inches deep.

The $250 price tag includes delivery and installation, with a portion of your payment being tax deductible.

Ocean Habitats, Inc is a federally recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

For more information and ordering, visit www.oceanhabitatsinc.com.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj