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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.