Date Changed for Northwest Florida Artificial Reef Workshop in Niceville: February 19-20

Picture of a boat and an ecosystem artificial reef

Save the date for the Florida Sea Grant-FWC Artificial Reef Workshop on Feb. 19-20 in Niceville. (Photo courtesy Bill Horn, FWC)

Please save the date for the 2013 Northwest Florida Regional Artificial Reef Workshop sponsored by Florida Sea Grant and FWC, to be held at the Niceville Community Center in Niceville, FL on Wednesday-Thursday, February 19-20, 2013. (Change due to Gulf Council Meeting Date Conflict)

Agenda and Registration Information will be published here by Dec 14, 2012 or earlier.

For more information send email to

The Invasion of the Lionfish

The Invasion of the Lionfish


(Photo: Florida Sea Grant)


It is a song that has been played in our state time and again.  An exotic pet or plant is brought across our borders and either intentionally or accidentally released into the environment.  Tropical fish, exotic reptiles, and nonnative mammals escape and the next thing you know they are wandering the neighborhood.

In many cases these non-natives are just another part of the landscape but some species they become invasive and cause economic or environmental problems.  There are many examples of invasives in Florida; iguanas, fire ants, Chinese tallow, Japanese climbing fern, and most recently – Burmese pythons.  The states of Florida and Hawaii have the largest problems with these creatures thus they
have some of the toughest laws dealing with them; there is a $1000 fine for releasing in Florida.  These creatures find plenty of food, few predators, and warm temperatures year round.  It is no different in the Gulf of Mexico.  Many tropical fish released into our waters do not survive the winters or the high salinities, but conditions are great for the lionfish.

The lionfish is from the western Pacific and range from Micronesia to the southern shores of Japan. They are cryptic and nocturnal in habit so detection difficult.  They are found primarily on offshore reefs and feed on a variety of small fishes, shrimps, and crabs; they have few natural predators.

So how did they get here?

It is believed that the lionfish issue began with the aquarium trade.  The most popular explanation for their release is the destruction of housing during the heavy hurricane seasons.  The earliest record of a lionfish in Florida was in 1985 in the town of Dania.  The first records in the northern Gulf were in 2010 when lionfish were seen in Apalachicola and Pensacola.

Are they invasive?

The answer is yes.  These fish are voracious feeders consuming over 50 species of reef fishes, shrimps, crabs, and some accounts show them feeding on small spiny lobsters; many are economically important to us.

So what do we do about it?

The method of choice at the moment is removal by humans.  Lionfish do not typically bite a hook so the most effective method is spearfishing.  Many areas are hosting “Lionfish Rodeos” which reward divers for returning as many as possible.  A rodeo held in Destin during the summer of 2012 landed 81 lionfish in a single day. On August 3, 2012 the state of Florida issued an executive order that will allow spear fishermen to capture lionfish without a saltwater license and no bag limit.  This executive order will be effective for one year.  Some communities consume lionfish and their flavor rating is good.  However the FDA reported that lionfish live and feed on similar prey that many species of reef fish that develop ciguatera do.  Though there have been no confirmed reports of ciguatera in lionfish there is a risk.

You can read more on this article at  or contact the Sea Grant agent at your local extension office.

Waukeenah Plantation to Host Stewardship Tour Dec 6 – Registration Open

Forest management?  Wild Life Habitat?  History?

No matter what your interest, the December 6 Forest Stewardship Tour at Waukeenah Plantation in southern Jefferson County will give you an onsite vision of developing a forest on your property. Waukeenah Plantation was purchased by its current owners just a little over twenty-five years ago. Since then, pines have replaced pastures and the property is being managed for timber production and wildlife habitat. The day’s program will be hosted by the Florida-Georgia Game Management Series and the University of Florida Forest Stewardship program and will feature how habitat can be developed and enhanced in a relatively short time.

This is just the latest change in the use of this land. Long before Hernando deSoto camped here, indigenous peoples enjoyed the clear streams and fertile lands near the Cody Scarp. In the early nineteenth century, planter Robert Gamble set up the original Waukeenah Plantation. In addition to the recently planted pines, the site boasts hardwoods in the creek bottoms. Tour stops will visit both and discuss the management of each to enhance wildlife habitat. Tour leaders will include speakers from the University of Florida and University of Georgia Extension Services, the Florida Department of Forestry, National Wild Turkey Federation, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Florida Public Archeology Network.

For more information, contact Jed Dillard at or 850-342-0187. Register online at . Registration is limited and required.

Historic and Modern Use of Artificial Reefs in Northwest Florida

Historic and Modern Use of Artificial Reefs in Northwest Florida

Photo Courtesy of NOAA – Car bodies and other thin metal materials such as appliances were once used to create artificial reefs. Monitoring revealed these materials deteriorate quickly.

History of Artificial Reefs and Materials
Ancient mariners observed large numbers of fish inhabiting areas near sunken vessels. Our first sailors quickly realized objects placed in the sea are almost immediately colonized by marine life.


Based on these early observations, the first artificial reefs were constructed from materials purposefully put underwater to enrich marine life. New reefs were mainly constructed from deteriorating vessels or “materials of opportunity”.

In the 1830s, artificial reef pioneers in South Carolina experimented using log huts, which they discovered deteriorated in a few short years. Locally, in the Florida Panhandle, as early as the 1950s and 60s, railroad cars, school buses, car bodies, white goods (stoves, refrigerator, washer, etc.), tires, and even porcelain fixtures were used to create artificial reefs.


Modern use of Artificial Reefs and Materials

Today’s artificial reef materials are no longer the “underwater junk yards” of the past but marine resources that are carefully deployed and calculated to last at least 20 years without harm to wildlife or the environment. Decommissioned steel hulled ships, military surplus, nested concrete culvert, and durable “materials of opportunity” are still utilized today. Additionally, new engineered concrete artificial reef modules that support specific species and various life stages of fish have been developed. Current fisheries research seeks to refine materials, design, and placement of artificial reefs to maximize conservation through planned monitoring activities.


Courtesy of Florida Sea Grant. In total, it takes about 3 – 5 years for reefs to reach a level of maximum production for both fish and invertebrate species.

Within hours of sinking a vessel or concrete reef, baitfish move into their new home. This initiates a “parade” of marine life over several months. The hard structure of an artificial reef is slowly colonized by soft corals, sponges, plants, and barnacles.  Baitfish will soon have new neighbors, as snapper and grouper take residence. Nearby sand sediments come to life with sea stars, sand dollars, and other invertebrate species.

Attraction vs. Production
Almost as old as the history of artificial reefs is the question of attraction vs. production. Do artificial reefs actually increase the fish population or merely increase the number of fish being caught? Researchers struggled with this question for decades producing seemingly conflicting results. Today’s consensus is that the answer to the question is both yes and no – it depends.

When fishing pressure and mortality exceed the number of fish produced, artificial reefs can end up as expensive fishing equipment. It’s in everyone’s interest to avoid this situation and create productive resources.


Photo Courtesy of Okaloosa County Sea Grant and Joy Brown. Engineered concrete reefs with limestone rock. Modules are easily stacked for transport and then deployed by crane to create patch reefs.

Fisheries Management Tools
Artificial reefs are best used as a fisheries conservation tool that disperses fishing pressure and promotes healthy fish stocks. Reefs are strategically deployed so that the exposure to fishing pressure is limited by either time or by geographic location. The ultimate goal when using artificial reefs is for fish production to exceed any fishing or natural mortality.

Economic Benefits of Artificial Reefs
Our artificial reefs support more than just fish. They support jobs and people that earn a living from tourism associated with diving and fishing. In 1998, Florida State University researchers, estimated fishing and diving activities supported nearly 8,136 jobs and 84 million dollars in salary each year in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay counties. Despite the age of the study, it provides an idea of how vital artificial reefs and marine recreation are to Northwest Florida.



Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife and Bill Horn. Different types of modules are now being deployed together. Innovations like this narrow spaced ecosystem reef help expand the diversity of fish species and ages supported in today‘s reef designs.

How to Access Northwest Florida’s Artificial Reefs

Escambia County

Okaloosa County

Bay County

Florida Fish and Wildlife

Local Artificial Reef Associations

Emerald Coast Reef Association

Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association



Creating Marine Habitat Videos produced by Florida Fish and Wildlife with narration from Mark Sosin  



Teaching Tired Old Turkey to Swim!

Holiday dinners usually feature ham and turkey. You may start having left-over sandwich nightmares after eating turkey for the next six weeks! Many Florida families choose fresh seafood as a delicious and healthy addition to their traditional holiday meals.


Fish on a thick bed of ice with bellies down. Courtesy of Florida Sea Grant

This is a great time of year to purchase and enjoy seafood.  There is quality fish, shrimp, and shellfish currently at your local grocery store or seafood market. Usually with the holidays, there’s more time to explore new recipes in the kitchen. Fresh ingredients are the key to any good recipe and helps ensure healthy eating.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) FishWatch website ( provides consumers with information regarding seafood nutrition, safety, and sustainability.


FishWatch suggests the following when shopping for fresh fish:

  • To be sure the safety of seafood is being properly preserved, only buy fish that is refrigerated or properly iced. Fish should be displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice that is not melting and preferably in a case or under some type of cover. Fish should be arranged with the bellies down so that the melting ice drains away from the fish, thus reducing the chances of spoilage.
  • Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour, or ammonia-like odors.
  • A fish’s eyes should be clear and bulge a little (except for a few naturally cloudy-eyed fish types, such as walleye pike).
  • Whole fish and fillets should be firm and spring back when pressed.
  • Fish should have shiny flesh and bright red gills free of slime. Dull flesh could mean the fish is old.  Note: Fish fillets that have been previously frozen may have lost some of their shine, but they are fine to eat.
  • Fish fillets should display no darkening or drying around the edges. They should have no green or yellowish discoloration and should not appear dry or mushy in any areas.

Fresh Florida Oysters are almost as popular during the holidays as pecans and walnuts; they are just a little more difficult to crack! Oysters are a welcomed addition to any meal, as side dishes, appetizers, or snacks between larger meals. You’ll enjoy finding great ways to prepare this nutritious shellfish.

Consumption of raw seafood such as oysters is not recommended for those whose immune systems are compromised.  For example, patients completing chemotherapy or folks with blood or digestive disorders are at a higher risk for contracting bacterial infections.  Ask your doctor if you have a question whether you are at higher risk. Properly cooked oysters (plump, opaque, and curled edges) are healthy choices. Cooking kills bacteria associated with raw seafood. For more information on oyster consumption and recipes visit

One recipe that complements the traditional bird is oyster dressing. With this recipe you can enjoy both turkey and seafood together. For more oyster and seafood recipes like this one, visit


Complement a traditional holiday meal with seafood dish like oyster dressing. Courtesy of Florida Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS)

12-ounces Florida oysters
½ c. Florida celery, chopped
½ c. Florida onion, chopped
¼ c. butter
4 c. day-old bread cubes
1 tbsp. fresh Florida parsley, chopped or 1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. sage
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/8 tsp.  teaspoon pepper


Preheat oven to 325° F. Drain oysters; reserve liquid. Remove any remaining shell particles. Chop oysters. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Add oysters and oyster liquid to vegetables; cook for 10 minutes. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes and seasonings in a large bowl; mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with additional oyster liquid or chicken broth. Bake dressing in a greased casserole dish for 30 minutes.