A sea turtle sits atop a snorkeling reef off the coast of Florida.
A sea turtle sits atop a snorkeling reef off the coast of Florida.

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Marine Resources Division.By John Mullen

August 28, 2018 Update: The reef sites are located at:

Alabama Point
N30 16.420”
W87 32.520”
 
Romar Beach
N30 15.621”
W87 36.361”
 
Pavilion
30 15.083”
W87 38.643”

August 22, 2018 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – Phillip West is ready to put on his gear and swim out to try the newest attraction on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Walter Marine of Orange Beach is deploying 166 modules in three locations to create snorkel reefs.

"I know I’ll be donning a mask and snorkel,” West, Coastal Resources Director for Orange Beach, said. “Potentially, it could be pretty dynamic.”

This is a project the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation has been pursuing since it was formed to raise money to sink the LuLu in 2013. Chairman Vince Lucido is glad to finally see the effort come to fruition.

“It’s something we’ve been waiting on for years,” Lucido said.

A snorkeling reef off of the coast of Florida.
It takes about a year for a reef to mature.

Craig Newton of the Alabama Marine Resources Division said the $590,000 project is financed by BP fine administered through a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant.

“They are three or four concrete disks on each piling and the piling will be embedded into the seabed about 12 or 13 feet deep,” Newton said.

David Walter of Walter Marine has already deployed the reefs off of Navarre and in Escambia County off of Johnson Beach and says they have given a boost to local tourism.

“When they did it in Navarre it added 25 percent to their tourism down there,” he said. “It makes a free, family-oriented time instead of going to an aquarium and looking at stuff through glass you actually get to experience the same thing up close and personal. You get to see it in its natural environment.”

It takes a while for the reefs to be teeming with life, Walter said, but they attract creatures of the Gulf immediately.

“It’s incredible the amount of life around those things,” he said. “Octopus, dolphins, turtles, all kinds of fish and crabs and marine animals. It’s really something to see. It’ll probably be next summer before they mature but there will be stuff on them right away. Soon as we get them in there’ll be fish on ‘em.”

The first sign of the reefs going in came in the form of a jack-up boat arousing curiosity off the shore near the Turquoise Place condominiums. Walter said the boat is an essential, and expensive, part of the project.

“It’s the most complicated project we do,” Walter said. “We’re working in the surf and we have to use that jack-up boat. We have to be very, very accurate. We have to have a survey-grade GPS on the end of the crane boom and a computer program that finds each place within a foot or two.”

The next bit of precision involves the depth.

"They have to be installed exactly seven feet under the water so that’s another thing we have to pay attention to,” Walter said. “It’s mounted on a piling so it depends on how far we drive the piling into the ground.” 

The Orange Beach Fire Department just finished a busy summer that saw its resources maxed out with water rescues. But Fire Chief Justin Pearce doesn't believe adding the reefs will increase his department's workload.

Typically, if they have mask, snorkel and fins they are in a better position to get themselves out of trouble. Having the fins provides extra power and the ability to get out of trouble a little easier and they’re not taking in as much water.

There will be 3 reefs on the Alabama Gulf Coast, 1) in front of the Gulf State Park Pavilion, 2) at Romar Beach & 3) at the Shell Parking Lot just east of Perdido Pass. (See map below.)

The Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation has been working on the snorkeling reef project since 2013.