Gulf of Mexico
Dr. Mike Parsons, Professor of Marine Sciences and Expert in coastal water health at Florida Gulf Coast University, watches as the the first 6 culverts were installed at the site of Kimberly’s Reef, Wednesday morning, March 1, 2023. (Andrea Melendez / WGCU / WGCU)

GOM - Artificial reef being created in Gulf of Mexico

Florida Gulf Coast University began installing the base of its new artificial reef, named Kimberly’s Reef, in the Gulf of Mexico. Groups of concrete culverts will create an 11-acre underwater laboratory for scientific experimentation and research.

The conditions are seemingly perfect to be out on the water: Clear blue skies, bright shining sun, minimal wind. Yet hundreds of bloated fish and decaying marine life littering the water’s surface serves as a putrid reminder of the need for environmental solutions.

Dr. Mike Parsons is a professor of Marine Science at Florida Gulf Coast University's Water School and is spearheading the Kimberly’s Reef project. While cruising to the reef for the deployment, he’s identifying some of the larger fish floating dead in the water while steering the Tidewater boat to the reef site.

"To me looks like a red fish, or red drum would be the common name," said Parsons. "That's probably a good 15-20 pounds. It's a reproductive adult. So how many eggs does it produce? How many, you know, larval baby fish was that responsible for? When you kill a fish that big, that's more than just one individual that's going to be impacted by it."

An artificial reef will allow Parsons and FGCU’s Water School to study how environmental events, like red tide, impact marine organisms, while also examining the ways life recovers and rebounds thereafter. He says the solutions to chronic water issues lie first in understanding them entirely.


“If you want to come up with solutions you need to understand the problem," said Parsons. "So when we talk about water quality, if we just say water quality is bad, we need to fix it ... well, what's bad, where's the badness coming from? And then you can think about ways of trying to fix it.”

The site for Kimberly’s Reef is located 10 miles offshore of Bonita Beach, where a barge with a towering crane driving back and forth is preparing to deploy the first six concrete culverts that will kick off the reef's creation.

The concrete culverts are being donated by Old Castle Cement Industries in Cape Coral and Fort Myers' Kelly Brothers Inc. took care of the deployment efforts.

A total of 18 box culverts will be grouped in six sets of three, creating an 11-acre underwater laboratory for scientific experimentation and research.

Parsons explains that the reef comes with an interdisciplinary approach in mind.

“It'll be a great platform not only for doing research on water quality, but for education," said Parsons. "So try to get writers involved, try to get some of our entrepreneurial students and business students involved. Our students are already involved. So I think it's going to be a great opportunity.”

The reef is expected to attract fish almost immediately. 3-D printed, coral-like pieces will soon be attached to the culverts, creating a more diverse structure and encouraging organisms to live and grow there.

"We're going to be starting with some more compact designs, see which hold up to wave action, hold up to the water conditions, but also see which ones attract the most organisms, especially the ones we want to attract,” said Parsons.

The reef is named in honor of Kimberly Anne Rieseberg, daughter of Eric Rieseberg who died of cancer on her fourth birthday. Learn more

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