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Coral Reef Ambassador Program

Just as Broward County's beaches attract visitors, the ocean environment draws diving and fishing enthusiasts from all over the world and Greater Fort Lauderdale is home to part of the only coral reef in the continental United States. The reefs extend the entire length of Broward County and are separated into three distinct north-south tracts (inner, middle, and outer). These reef tracts range in depth from 15 feet on the inner reef tract to 90 feet on the outer tract. In Lauderdale-By-The-Sea divers and snorkelers can access reef sites right from the beach, which is why this popular beach location is known as the Florida's Beach Diving Capital.

Reef Monitoring Program

There are 25 permanent research sites located offshore of Broward's 24 miles of coastline and these sites have been monitored periodically since the 1980s, and continuously since 1997. At each monitoring site, the numbers and types of corals and sponges are recorded to compare differences between sites and over time. Numerous one-square-meter areas of reef are photographed and studied to monitor changes in the reef environment, and fish counts are carried out to determine the number and types of fishes found at each of the study sites.

In addition, sediment collections are sampled at each of the sites to determine the amount and grain size of sediments that settle onto the reef. The results of this biological monitoring not only provide a time series record of Broward County's reef system, but also assist in the identification of factors which may damage organisms or reduce the populations of corals and sponges on the reef.

Artificial Reef Program

Since 1982, Broward County has created over 112 artificial reefs off our shores. The reefs, which are designed to create a new stable substrate, are made from a variety of materials including ships, barges, oil rigs, limestone rock, concrete culverts, engineered concrete artificial reef modules, and other environmentally suitable artificial reef materials. These materials are placed at various depths where they quickly become habitats 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. This will benefit both our environment and our economy for years to come. Tax-deductible donations of material, services, and transportation costs have been the keys to the success of the Artificial Reef Program and donations are always welcome.

Reef Conservation Tips for Divers

Tens of thousands of divers descend on the Florida Reef each year, so coral-friendly diving practices are essential. It is vital that you avoid touching the corals with hands, fins, or gear. Here are some tips to avoid contact:

  • Learn how much weight is ideal to get you to the bottom. Practice your buoyancy skills before diving on coral reefs.
  • Swim at an attitude parallel to the reef to avoid kicking it with your fins. Shallow artificial reefs are good places to practice.
  • You will enjoy a longer, safer dive if you hover a bit above the reef. The air in your SCUBA tank will actually last longer.
  • Clip the alternate second stage regulator (octopus) to your Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) so that it does not drag across the reef. This goes for lobster hunting gear as well.
  • When diving for lobsters, wear gloves to protect your hands, and if you must touch the reef, please do not touch corals.
  • Spearfishermen—if you need to sit on the bottom to reload or float a fish to the surface, find a sandy spot to settle on.

It is imperative that you clean your gear when moving to different areas along the reef. Microbial organisms can hitch a ride on unwashed dive gear, spreading disease from dive to dive. It is important to disinfect wetsuits, masks, fins and SCUBA equipment. While onboard your vessel, clean gear with non-ionic detergents and soaps. Use a diluted bleach wash once you return to shore.

Opt for biodegradable, reef-friendly sun protection. Sunscreens containing between 1-10 percent Oxybenzone may harm corals. If you can’t avoid Oxybenzone, opt for the lowest concentration. Any small effort to reduce Oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers. Please do continue to wear sunscreen to prevent the risk of skin cancer, as the sun in South Florida is very strong.

Reef Conservation for Anglers and Boaters

To protect the coral reef ecosystem, it is important to learn and abide by the science-based fishing regulations established by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC). Please do not take more than you are allowed.

Better yet, take only what you need. Fish are not just products of the coral reef ecosystem; they are also part of its fragile ecology. Like productive citizens, they provide goods and services to the ecosystem to which they belong.

Besides abiding by fishing regulations, here are more reef-friendly fishing and boating tips:

  • Do not drop an anchor on the reef. Anchor in sand up current of the reef and pay out line until the boat is over the reef.
  • Use circle hooks. Fish rarely swallow circle hooks, and they are easier to remove, so more undersized and unwanted fish you release will survive.
  • Discard the fishing line in proper recycling receptacles.
  • When bottom fishing, use a braided line and a leader lighter than the breaking strength of the braid. If you get hung up, you’ll leave a minimal amount of line on the reef.
  • Seagrass meadows in estuaries support coral reefs by filtering water, stabilizing sediments, and providing nursery habitats for fish species that live on reefs once they mature. Propeller scars cause seagrass meadows to erode. Plan your route ahead of time, consult nautical charts frequently, and know your vessel's draft to avoid running aground on seagrass or reef. There are major penalties for harming either.
  • Boats can be disease vectors and transplant exotic species. Wash your boat thoroughly, including the bilge, before traveling from one area to the next.
  • Fuel up and add oil in a calm area to avoid spills. Be careful not to overflow your fuel tanks or oil receptacle.
  • Dispose of trash onshore and recycle!
  • Make sure to avoid sunning sea turtles or manatees.

Reef Conservation is Something We Can All Take Part In

Marine debris is anything man-made and discarded that enters the marine environment. Most trash comes from land-based sources. Trash on the ground may be swept into inland waterways by rain and wind, where it will then make its way into the ocean through rivers and streams. Trash left on beaches is also a culprit.

Debris can spread diseases, invasive species, become navigational hazards, endanger human health, and harm wildlife. For example, sea turtles mistake plastic for the jellyfish they feed on, and ingest it. Here are few ways how you can help:

  • Participate in marine/ beach/ reef cleanup events and activities.
  • Recycle! Dispose of trash and recyclable materials in the proper receptacles or bring trash and recyclables home.
  • Reduce marine debris from fishing gear.
  • Bring lost fish traps and tangles of fishing lines to recycling bins.
  • Hire local guides when visiting the coral reef ecosystem.
  • Respect marine animals and their environment; leave coral and living shells where you found them.
  • Re-use works! Keep reusable bags handy, carry a metal straw, use a refillable water bottle, consider reusable containers instead of disposable baggies.

Tire Reef Removal Project

When creating an artificial reef, it is important to understand how the materials will act over time in the ocean. Ships, concrete, and limestone boulders are materials that have been used locally and worldwide and have been very successful in creating reefs while tires are an example of material that may not be suitable for use as an artificial reef. Broward County is working with State and Federal agencies to remove a failed artificial reef constructed wholly of tires.

Learn more about the Tire Removal Project

Diving on an Artificial Reef

Many scuba divers have found artificial reefs to be beautiful and exciting dives. The artificial reefs in Broward County are diverse in type, depth, and level of diving difficulty. You can follow these guidelines to help make your diving on Broward's artificial reefs a safe and enjoyable experience:

  • Never dive alone; always have a dive buddy with you.
  • At a minimum, you should be Wreck Diver SCUBACertified. This certification is available through most dive facilities in Broward County.
  • Always assess the weather conditions before leaving the dock and again at the wreck site. Once on the site, you and your dive buddy can determine if the wave height, current, and/or visibility will allow for a safe dive.
  • When diving on an artificial reef, you should always leave someone on board the boat that can operate the boat in an emergency. This person should maintain a watch for divers surfacing downstream of the artificial reef.
  • Be aware of the hazards of fishing line and other debris that may snag a diver while on an artificial reef. Each diver should carry a knife and/or wire cutters to avoid entanglement.
  • It is not recommended that you go inside any wreck. The most colorful and beautiful corals, sponges, and fish are on the outside of the wreck.
  • Pre-plan your dive and stay with that plan to avoid trouble.
  • Finally, only dive within your capability.

Fishing on an Artificial Reef

Many different types of fish can be caught over or near artificial reefs. Reefs deeper than 200 feet are especially productive for large open-water predators. Amberjack, strong fighting fish that can weigh over 100 pounds, are one of the most common reef residents. These fish school over the artificial reefs from January to July, with May being the peak month.

Other species of wreck dwellers are black, gag, warsaw, and snowy groupers. Giant goliath grouper also make many of the wrecks their home. Additionally, many species, including sailfish, kingfish, Spanish mackerel, barracuda, mutton snapper, and cobia appear to use the artificial reefs as feeding areas and can be caught in abundance many hundreds of yards from the artificial reef.

Anglers should be aware that many fish are protected by state law. For current regulations, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Florida Artificial Reef Locations