Artificial reefs to rehab St. Johns River

Coastal Conservation Association, country singer helped fund the project

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's a first for Northeast Florida -- an artificial reef inshore, and it's set to be built this winter.

The effort has been underway for several years to help rehabilitate the St. Johns River and now, the reality of the St. Johns River hosting an artificial reef is here.

Country music star Kenny Chesney donated $30,000 to the Coastal Conservation Association for this project. The association pledged to match whatever donations were given so the cost of the project is now covered. From the "green monster" to sea life, the river has some problems and this reef is supposed to help.

Charles Holt is a Jacksonville native, born and raised on the St. Johns River. He grew up fishing, sailing, water skiing and swimming in the river.

"The river here in Jacksonville when I was a youngster, had a lot of eel grass growing along the shoreline. The eel grass was the habitat at that time the river was a lot fresher. Well today, with the salt water intrusion as we use more and more of the water, the river is not flowing as much as it was and this part of the river has a lot more salinity, it's a lot saltier," said Holt, a member of the Coastal Conservation Association.

Because of that, the eel grass has died and any type of habitat is gone. The bottom of the river is baren, and in an effort to restore it, the local chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association has worked hard for years getting proper permits and permission to construct an artificial reef.

"We're going to have two locations where we put broken concrete. The concrete will be about three or four feet in diameter so its not real large and they'll be scattered in two areas. Each area will be 200 feet by 200 feet and what that will do is give a break in the flow of the current and a place for the oysters and the barnacles and the growth to get established and start to provide a beginning of something real nice," said Holt.

The approved locations are near downtown, just south of the Fuller Warren Bridge and east of the channel, off of San Marco. It will be far from the shoreline and away from the channel where it's safe.

Generating a habitat is the big part, but there will be a bit of a cleaning effect, too.

"As the oysters grow on the reef, they filter the water it will take an awful lot of oysters to filter all the nutrients out there we got in the st johns but everything helps," said Holt.

Using large cranes like, the plan is to put the placements out in February when the manatees are gone.

Fishermen are very excited about this too because it will attract fish of all types. Jacksonville University is also going to be doing a research study on the reef for the next couple of years.

We have offshore reefs in Jacksonville, but nothing like this inshore. It's been done elsewhere though and was very successful in places like the Chesapeake Bay.