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Okaloosa, winery partner on 'super reef' project with largest artificial reef made in U.S.

Starborough engages Reefmaker and consumers in ocean conservation efforts

Devon Ravine
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH —Okaloosa County’s artificial reef system got a little bit larger recently with the addition of 26 concrete and limestone structures in one of the county’s first public-private artificial reef projects.

A diver inspects a newly deployed artificial reef module that is part of the Starborough Winery Reef, Okaloosa County's newest addition to it's artificial reef system.

The latest reef site will be known as the Starborough Winery Reef, after the New Zealand-based wine company that donated a 16-ton, 15-foot-tall "super reef." The three-sided structure was built by Orange Beach, Alabama-based company Reefmaker and is the largest artificial reef manufactured in the United States.

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To accompany the donated “super reef,” 25 additional 8-foot-tall reef structures similar in shape and style were purchased by Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa County's Tourism Development Department.

A crane lifts one of several artificial reef structures that were deployed recently in the Gulf of Mexico about 5.75 nautical miles southwest of Destin.

Using a ship-mounted crane, a crew from Reefmaker took about two hours Tuesday morning to lower all 26 structures to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The total reef field is about 200 feet by 100 feet. It's located about 5.75 nautical miles southwest of Destin at a depth of 68 feet.

Another “Super Reef” donated by Starborough Winery was also deployed the same day off the shores of Walton County.

Alex Fogg, coastal resource manager with Destin-Fort Walton Beach, was among a group of divers who descended to the reef field to remove ropes and inspect the placement of the structures.

“We had some transient fish that showed up,” said Fogg. “I’d say in about six months we will start to see some growth.”

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Fogg said the use of limestone in the reef encourages the growth of small marine life, like soft coral and sponges. That development will first attract smaller fish like blennies, then larger fish like amberjack and mackeral, and eventually, more prized species like grouper and snapper.

An artificial reef structure sits on a barge waiting to be deployed in the Gulf of Mexico about 5.75 nautical miles southwest of Destin.

The Starborough Winery Reef was Okaloosa County’s 400th artificial reef.

“This is a great site,” said Fogg. “It’s got plenty of complexity and will have a lot to see once it matures. It’s great example of how a collaboration can make awesome things  happen.”

“This is just the latest partnership in our ongoing commitment to protect and restore our oceans,” said Courtney O’Brien, senior marketing director at E. &. J. Gallo Winery, Starborough’s parent company. “Coral reefs are an incredibly important part of our ecosystem and we are honored to be partnering with Reefmaker to make a real impact.”

Divers inspect artificial reef structures that were deployed in the Gulf of Mexico recently.

As part of its ongoing commitment to supporting ocean conservation, Starborough will dedicate its social media feed to educating and challenging consumers to take part in ocean conservation efforts throughout the month of June, in honor of National Ocean’s Month.

Starborough has pledged to donate and deploy another reef if the brand’s Instagram channel reaches 100,000 engagements (likes, comments, shares and new followers),

Since 2020, Starborough has been a partner of Oceana, the world’s largest international ocean conservation organization. This August, Starborough will donate $1 from every wine bottle sold, up to $50,000, to Oceana to continue supporting their efforts in protecting ocean habitats.

The Starborough Winery Reef is located at 30° 21.048 degrees North and  86° 36.874 degrees West.

For more information about Okaloosa County’s reef system, visit Destin-Fort Walton Beach Artificial Reefs.