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Old concrete targets from Eglin to become tall reefs

OKALOOSA COUNTY  --  Old concrete targets from Eglin Air Force Base will soon become giant fish habitats in the Gulf. an artificial reef project in Okaloosa County has been approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The permit allows reefs up to thirty feet tall.

Laura Hussey "Plenty of businesses like Half Hitch Tackle in Destin depend on a thriving underwater ecosystem. The more fish there are out there, the more of this stuff they can sell"

Artificial reefs are important because Northwest Florida's wide-open sandy bottom doesn't offer fish any protection.

Joe Bettinger/Half Hitch Tackle "It's absolutely essential. Most of the local fishermen build their own reefs out of chicken coops. This will be more of a public spot."

Four reef sites have been permitted, about three miles off of Fort Walton Beach. Instead of the concrete pyramids often used in reef construction, the building blocks will be large concrete chunks once used as targets on the Eglin Air Force Base range. The material is rich in limestone, perfect for nourishing marine life.

Coach Mary/Emerald Coast Scuba "These reefs are going to let more critters and fish come into the area, and they'll be able to hide in the cracks"

The structures will be mountains compared to most reefs in state waters. Piles of rubble will rise thirty feet from the floor of the gulf. The bases of the piles could be a hundred-fifty feet square.

Coach Mary "People are calling right now, if they know they're going to be here for the summer and schedule to get on the boat. So having different options is always nice, take them to new places"

The staff at Emerald Coast Scuba says the tall reefs will attract the tropical fish that divers love, and the bigger fish that anglers love to catch.   

Joe Bettinger "Good for the economy, for local fishermen to get to it, as well as charter guys"

The 160 thousand dollar cost will be half paid by a state grant, with the remaining 80 thousand coming from bed taxes. 

Laura Hussey "The county has a number of other reef projects in the planning stages."