By Jane Bartnett
On a misty late November day, Siesta Key received an early holiday gift when 45 mini-reefs were installed under the docks of 45 waterfront canal homes. Participating homeowners had purchased the reefs, through the Siesta Key Association, at a cost of $300 each.
What they’ll accomplish could be considered priceless, as they’ll benefit the ecosystem of the island’s canal waters for many years to come.
As a soft rain fell, a team of local volunteers joined the association’s Jean Cannon and Florida scientist Dr. David Wolff, the designer of the reefs, along with his two sons for the day-long project.
Wolff’s company Ocean Habitats, based in Micanopy (south of Gainesville), has overseen the successful installation of mini-reefs in 23 states as well as the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.
Volunteers deposited the reefs at the end of designated driveways throughout the neighborhood, and then carried them to the homes’ docks where Wolff and his sons provided installation.
“They’re light and easy to work with,” said Cannon as she lifted a specially designed mini-reef constructed of fiberglass, PVC pipe, polypropylene rope and crab-trap floats. The mini-reef measures 24 inches by 36 inches long and 24 inches deep.
Commenting on the benefits that the mini-reefs have on Siesta Key’s canal waters, Wolff said that the simple devices “provide shelter for certain species and act as a filtration system for 30,000 gallons of water a day, allowing shrimp and crabs to grow.”
They are designed, he added, “to serve as a nursery habitat and an alternative to the mangroves that have been lost due to development. The mini-reefs are designed specifically to work in canal systems such as the Grand Canal in Siesta Key.”
During the morning, the team focused on the Waterside East community where it installed 30 mini-reefs at residential docks. That afternoon, 10 mini-reefs were installed at residential docks in the Shadow Lawn, Palm Island and Oxford neighborhoods, and another five were attached under residential docks along the Intracoastal and in Heron Lagoon.
“When I heard that Jean Cannon needed help on the mini-reef project I got involved,” said Bruce Luberski, a retired oil company consultant who brings to the effort years of experience in managing large projects around the world. He has made Siesta Key his home since 2016.
“There’s something about getting involved in a project like this,” he said. “You see firsthand how important it is that we support efforts to improve biodiversity in the Grand Canal.
“Our canal system is a great thing about Siesta Key. Several of us have begun doing surveys on a wave runner with GPS coordinates. We know where the reefs are and we’re organizing data sheets and taking more sophisticated oxygen readings of the water. It’s important that we do what we can to ensure that the canals don’t go dead. There is no other way to filter the water and ensure that it’s not robbed of oxygen.”
Cannon praised the work of volunteers such as Luberski.
“We couldn’t have done it without the help of these individuals,” she said.
For the Waterside East project, Cannon noted that Jim Martin (president of the neighborhood’s homeowners association), Eric Hampton, Bruce and Judith Luberski, and Gina and Eric Wright all played a very important role in making this a success.
“Homeowners such as these,” she explained, “are vital in bringing a neighborhood together, allowing for a larger impact.”
Cannon said that residents in canal communities have also reacted positively to a smaller yet impactful program associated with the mini-reef effort: An increasing number of street-level storm drains are sporting a colorful and important message stenciled in a bright turquoise blue that were designed and painted by Kim Walsh of the Out-of-Door Academy and her students. Atop the image of a bright blue dolphin are the words “no dumping” and below the mammal’s image it reads “drains to ocean.”
This colorful reminder, Cannon said, “tells us that the trash we casually thrown down a storm drain ends up in our waters and harms dolphins and other living things.”
As the new year begins, Cannon plans to increase outreach efforts to Sarasota County and to share data. She also looks forward to embarking on a concerted neighborhood outreach effort to meet with condominium and homeowners associations to speak to them directly about the mini-reef program.
“We’re also applying for grants that will allow us to purchase new digital reading equipment to survey the canals by water. A community in Venice has allowed us to borrow their equipment but having our own will give us the tools to support the science side of our data. It comes at a cost of approximately $7,000,” she said.