Thanks to mini reefs, canal progress continues

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By Rachel Brown Hackney

SarasotaNewsLeader.com

Before the end of February, leaders of the Siesta Key Association’s Grand Canal Regeneration Project hoped to have a total of 80 mini reefs installed in four specific areas of the island, association director Margaret Jean Cannon told members during the nonprofit’s Feb. 4 meeting.

Altogether, she pointed out, 878 homes on the 9-mile-long Grand Canal have docks, based on research the association has undertaken. As of Feb. 4, she continued, 60 of those homes — 7% — had mini reefs installed. The project team hoped to add 20 more in February, Cannon said.

The devices, made of durable polypropylene, are produced by a Florida nonprofit organization, Ocean Habitats.

As explained during past meetings, the mini reefs are designed as “homes” for sea life such as oysters, which are called “filter feeders,” because they eat organisms that degrade the water. As the water quality improves, juvenile fish are attracted to the area around the mini reefs. 

Phil Chiocchio, of Sarasota, a member of the Sarasota Bay Fisheries Forum — who introduced association members to mini reefs in 2019 — has offered hope that the water in the Grand Canal will be of far better quality by 2025, which will be the 100-year anniversary of the canal’s creation. 

“It would be great if neighbors can start talking to their neighbors,” he said to promote the initiative. 

A map Cannon presented the Zoom meeting participants featured a map of the island showing the four sections where the association’s team has been working to gain residents’ approval for the use of the mini reefs: the Grand Canal section, Palm Island section, Siesta Isles section and Ocean Beach/Sarasands section.

The primary target area, Cannon pointed out, is the Grand Canal section, which includes Siesta Key Circle, Tremont Street and Waterside Way. “They’re up to 12%,” she said, referring to the percentage of mini reefs installed — 34 — out of the total of 234 homes with docks.

Cannon also noted that the team is working with various other nonprofits, including the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, based in Venice, on strategies to improve the canal and to pursue grant opportunities. 

The Foundation, she said, has launched an undertaking called the Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways. (During a presentation to the County Commission in March 2020, representatives of the Community Playbook group discussed a wide variety of initiatives that can lead to improved water quality countywide.)

At one point on Feb. 4, SKA President Catherine Luckner pointed out that a resident of Bay Island, on the northern part of the Key, told her he has seen firsthand how successful the mini reefs are, as he has used a kayak and a boat to travel around the island. He has two docks, she continued, and is interested in installing the devices. However, Luckner said, he was concerned about whether high tides could result in the mini reefs damaging his docks.

Chiocchio explained that Ocean Habitats has informed him that the devices weigh 200 to 300 pounds after they become filled with sea life, “so their lifting capacity is very minimal, and [Ocean Habitats has] not had any problems with [reports of the devices] lifting docks,” as long as the docks were built to current construction code standards. 

The mini reefs are attached to docks with ropes and pulleys, Cannon added, which also ensure their stability under docks.

For questions or offers to participate in the project, email SiestaKeyAssociation1947@gmail.com.

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