The large metal structures leaving local high schools are not reported to be the most elegant — welded together from scrap pieces of metal and brandishing garish logos.
One school administrator even described Wewahitchka High School’s project as a “monstrosity.”
But when the artificial reefs are dropped into the Gulf of Mexico in the coming months to become habitats for local marine life, the structures’ new residents are unlikely to care about their appearance.
The artificial reefs, which were designed, pitched and constructed by students at both Gulf County high schools, as well as other schools throughout the Panhandle, are part of a design program facilitated by the Bay County Artificial Reef Association and Eastern Shipbuilding Group.
“We partnered with the Bay County Artificial Reef Association,” said England Reeves, Eastern Shipbuilding’s director of operations in Port St. Joe. “They have all the facilities, and they’re familiar with the permitting process. So now each school has submitted their design. We got the approval through the Coastal Resource Coordinator, which is through the University of Florida and Bay County. They’ve taken over the permitting for all of the reefs. They control the criteria, and then they go through the zoning process to determine where all the reefs can be deployed.”
Reeves said all of the supplies for the reefs have been provided by Eastern Shipbuilding and that Eastern will store the completed reefs until they are able to be deployed.
Jessica Ditto, a communications representative from Eastern Shipbuilding said the project fits into a broader outreach goal the company has for the communities it works within.
“One of the core values of the company is to ensure that we support our communities by supporting a strong business relationship with our communities as well as promoting the safety and security of our communities, as well as promoting the quality of the environment, whether it’s at our site or through initiatives like this,” Ditto said. “This initiative is really important to us in the sense that it will improve our coastline. It will support the bay area where we work and live and play, and it gives the schools a chance to practice their welding skills.”
Reeves said that the enthusiasm he’s seen among the students is an encouraging sign.
“It’s really given them a look at some hands-on experience in something that is going to be real, and a lot of people are going to see it, so you can tell the kids are taking a lot of pride in it,” he said.
The reefs will be housed at Eastern Shipbuilding’s Port St. Joe yard until they are ready to be deployed in the coming months. Community sponsors are needed for each of the reefs. Those interested in sponsoring a reef are asked to contact 850-596-1806.