More artificial reefs draw in more fish, divers off Mexico Beach

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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Since 1997, the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA) has made it a mission to place artificial reefs offshore Bay and Gulf counties.

A $178,000 project was just finished. Fifty-seven reefs were deployed.

"Back in the day, when people started putting out artificial reefs, there was some concern that we were just drawing fish in off their natural habitat so we could catch them," Bob Stapleton, Captain of Spearit said.

As it turns out, many locals say the reefs are beneficial.

"That's such a great thing for our community. It helps the economy. It helps the fishing," Jackie King said.

"We're actually putting habitat out on what otherwise was like a desert out there," Stapleton explained.

According to Stapleton, the smaller reefs are better for fishermen.

"They attract a lot of baitfish. They're nursery reefs for the smaller fish," he said.

The bigger fish tend to gather around the reefs farther offshore.

"They're more desirable for diving because of generally clearer water and bigger fish to see," Stapleton explained.

"With natural reefs in jeopardy from environmental changes and physical damage, reefs play a mitigating role to preserve our ocean ecosystems for future generations," MBARA President Bob Cox explained. "Additionally, economic studies show that every dollar invested into artificial reef construction provides an annual return of over $131 to our economy that's heavily dependent [on] tourism, recreation, and seafood."

MBARA also offers memorial reefs. King got one for her late husband.

"He [Jim King] was 30 year veteran in the Navy. That would be World War II, Korea, and Vietnam," King said. "It's such a wonderful thing to know that I can go back and visit him out there and know the coordinates and enjoy the Gulf."

Jackie said after calling the area home for ten years, Jim loved MBARA.

"He always said a sailor needs to go back to the sea," she said.

For more information about MBARA and its Memorial Reef program, you can visit the website attached to this article.

"MBARA needs more donors, members, sponsors, and volunteers to make our program even better," Cox said.