Dropping beneath the surface the all too familiar serenity settles in like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. There are no sounds aside from the rhythm of your breath, a marine mammal echo-locating somewhere off in the distance and perhaps the occasional whir of a boat engine passing above.
Placing yourself in a marine environment is almost like stepping out in to the road in the middle of the desert. At first, it may seem like nothing much is going on, maybe a jelly fish cruising along in the water column above you, or maybe you notice a school of flying fish breaching the surface like a pack of road runners burning up the highway. Otherwise, the vast expanse of blue seems endless and daunting.
But what happens when you add a few points of interest, let’s say a diner or a rest area? Folks are going to start congregating and before you know it maybe a community begins to form. With the right materials and proper placement, the concept is the exact same when an artificial reef is put in to place.
“The first to set up shop are going to be your filter feeders; mussels, oysters, coral and barnacles,” says Remige Remige, director of Jennette’s Pier. “From there, it’s a snowball effect as these creatures create niches for all the other marine animals.
What’s even more interesting is that depending on the location, the marine residents can be completely different from one reef to the next. “Once you are about a mile offshore,” Remige shares, “you are getting in about 30-40 ft. of water. Depending on the light and depth you can really have some diverse species.”
And why is all of this relevant you ask? Well for many reasons, but for our purposes, the completion date for the new Bonner Bridge is set for August of this year. Once that happens, the old bridge will be dismantled — aside from a 1,000 feet section on the south side, which will be left intact in order to provide stabilization and training of the currents. The remainder of the bridge will be taken 4-8 miles offshore and placed in 4 new reef locations.
“It will be a great thing all the way around,” Remige says. “It’s an opportunity to create a unique ecosystem that supports the entire food chain from the filter feeders all the way up to the primary predators.”
The marine life will not be the only benefactors as our local fishing industry also stands to gain with the introduction of these new reef locations.
“With the expansion of the wreck fish population, the fishing will also become enhanced,” he says, adding with more wreck fish available, larger game fish will also become more prevalent.
Artificial reefs have been in use for much longer than we may realize. Some ancient cultures used them as a means to trap enemy ships, while others — like the Japanese during the 17th century — used them as a means to grow kelp, which in turn would increase their bounty of fish.
Either way you slice it, the materials from the old bridge are being re-purposed, instead of ending up in a land fill, a diverse colony of micro-organisms stand to gain some ground in an ever-threatened environment and a local fishing family can live to work another day.
Who knows: It may provide a special opportunity for scientists to gather data, or for a new diver to have a glimpse into a magical world we still know very little about.