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Tony Judnich
tjudnich@nwfdailynews.com
Northwest Florida Daily News

The Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department and partners recently deployed more than 100 additional offshore artificial reefs, which are expected to attract fishermen and divers while boosting the local economy.

The reefs were deployed in the Gulf of Mexico in late April and May.

Sixty-three of the 8-foot tall, concrete-embedded limestone reefs were deployed about six miles from the East Pass next to Destin in 68-to-74 feet of water, according to TDD spokeswoman Stacey Young.

She said this deployment connected three separate patches of prefabricated artificial reef modules with more than 500 tons of former Eglin Air Force Base target material that was deployed three years ago. A total of more than 700 reef modules were deployed as part of the overall project.

In addition, 35 8-foot modules and five 15-foot modules were deployed about 18 miles from the East Pass in 140 to 155 feet of water, according to county information. Young said those deployments represent the first artificial reef project to occur in federal waters -- greater than nine miles from shore -- in more than a decade.

“These artificial reefs will create valuable habitat for commercially and recreationally important species of fish and connect a network of artificial reefs that have been deployed over the past three years,” Alex Fogg, the TDD’s coastal resource manager, said in a statement. “These will be excellent sites for fishing and diving activities and are easily accessible to locals and visitors.”

Fogg could not immediately be reached on Friday for comment on how long it might take for plants, sponges and other marine growth to appear on the newly deployed reefs.

The deployments’ total cost of more than $2 million was funded by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, Artificial Reef Creation and Restoration Project, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and TDD.

Coordinates for the newly-deployed reefs as well as older artificial reefs can be found at the “fishing reefs” section of the county website, http://www.co.okaloosa.fl.us/tourist-development/home.