The Florida reef will create habitat for creatures like sea turtles, butterfly fish, juvenile flounder, snappers and many other organisms near the area's busiest beach.

Pensacola Beach's new artificial snorkeling reef should be installed this summer at Casino Beach.


Escambia County received a $59,500 grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for the installation of the new snorkeling reef. The project will go out for bid in the coming weeks, with a grant deadline of Aug. 1.


The reef will create habitat for creatures like sea turtles, butterfly fish, juvenile flounder, snappers and many other organisms near the area's busiest beach. Robert Turpin, Escambia County Marine Resources Division manager, said it will attract similar species as the Snorkel Reef East and Snorkel Reef Perdido Key.


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"Having this new snorkeling reef at Casino Beach in the core of Pensacola Beach, it provides for greater public access without creating additional traffic burdens on (J. Earle Bowden Way)," Turpin said.


The other snorkel reefs sometimes attract octopus and shellfish to the small spaces within the reefs, Turpin said. They also attract large barnacles, which, once they die off, create homes for blennies and gobies, two types of small fish.


The total footprint of the new snorkel reef will depend on bid prices, but Turpin said he expects it to be around 30 feet wide and about 150 to 200 feet long. It will be made up of modules separated enough that they would not influence any natural sand movement.


"The fish and marine life will utilize the (reef module) structures and the features within the structures for habitat," Turpin said.


A lot of artificial reefs in county waters are being constructed with recycled concrete, namely from the Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement project. When it comes to snorkel reefs so close to shoreline, they have to be build specifically for that purpose.


"Rubble in the near-shore environment very quickly subsides," Turpin said, adding that similarly to what happens to a wader's feet when they sink into the sand after a wave hits, a heavy rubble reef material would begin to sink as well.


Beach-goers and swimmers won't necessarily notice a difference once the new reef is installed, other than range marks on shore. The reef has to be out far enough to have about 7 or 8 feet of water above it on an average day.


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"Unless you were snorkeling with a dive flag and a mask and snorkel and fins, you wouldn't know," Turpin said.


The snorkel reefs are part of a larger artificial reef network across county waters, with 528 reefs total. The effort to construct snorkeling reefs in the northern portion on the Gulf of Mexico started after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, Turpin said.


This story originally published to pnj.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.