Jim and Pam Nolte hoping to have some new neighbors in the backyard of their Whiskey Creek home.
A new artificial reef might be the solution.
Ocean Habitats Inc. is a non-profit organization that specializes in improving marine life. David Wolff, founder of the institution and southwest Florida resident, created the company and its artificial reef, the Mini Reef,
“A lot of money has been put into artificial resources,” said Wolff. “Yet not a whole lot has been done to help babies [fishes] grow.”
Jim, founder of Nolte Wealth Management Group, wanted to do something about the Lake Okeechobee runoff in his own backyard. As a casual boater, Jim wanted to ensure the beauty of the Caloosahatchee river for generations to come.
Before, conversations were just about the only thing the Nolte’s neighbors have done to fix the water issues. Residents didn’t want to face additional drainage from their property, according to Jim.
Manatees, dolphins and porpoises are just a few of the visitors the Nolte’s see in their dock.
“[Whiskey Creek] such a unique marine environment,” said Jim. “With all of the issues about water quality in Lee county that have come to light in the past five years, after hearing about Wolff’s work I thought, what a wonderful idea. Here’s a way I can make a difference.”
Once he heard about Oceans Habitat , Jim said he immediately got in contact with Wolff and purchased two of the artificial reefs, which were installed on Thursday.
“This is an actionable issue that people can take to improve our environment,” said Jim.
The installation process is rather simple. Wolff or one of his workers, jumps under the dock and secures the propylene-plastic cube with ropes and buoys. The process takes less than ten minutes.
It takes about six to nine months for the lives of the marine life to mature. After that, the reef’s presence will increase the amount of fish in the area. Since the beginning of the company, Mini Reefs are present in 34 Florida cities, including the Bahamas.
Lee Country is suffering from a declining fish population, said Wolff. The county has placed regulations and restrictions for fishers in the area, yet none of them have had a serious impact. Other artificial reefs have been created and implemented on various shores nearby but have had the same result.
Wolff hopes his product can turn the tide.
“What we’re trying to do is to have three or four years from now to have fish produce to a bigger size and have a better chance at reaching a reproductive age,” said Wolff.
Each reef mimics the properties of a mangrove, according to Wolff. When filter feeders, or aquatic animals that host and feed on small particles, hit the dock with the tide, they cling onto the reef and continue to reproduce throughout the year.
Discharge from Lake Okeechobee has affected the hydrology in southwest Florida. The water from the lake flows down the Caloosahatchee River and is released into the Gulf of Mexico, which affects the thousands of inhabitants, both land and water.
Wolff’s experience with marine life when he was a worker at the Marine Habitat Foundation in Sanibel Island. That was where he first got hands-on experience with artificial reefs, as the company created different prototypes of artificial reefs in hopes that residents would purchase the product.
Unfortunately, the foundation closed down due to lack of funding, and Wolff pursued other career interests for almost two decades. After taking some time off to figure out his life decisions, Wolff decided to put his marine biology degree to use and start his own artificial reef company.
“I was sitting on a plane one day at 2 a.m. thinking ‘what am I doing?’,” said Wolff. “I had a degree and I wanted to work on this stuff.”
Wolff, and a few of his colleagues from school and the Marine Habitat, spent 18 months creating the best prototype that would improve the water quality in southwest Florida and the rest of the state.
“We took some of the good ideas people had and fixed some of the problems that arose from putting that together.”
For the next ten plus years, the Nolte’s will be the original hosts for up to 400 different species of marine life. Wolff said he has seen up 150,000 organisms on a single unit, with a majority of the inhabitants being microorganisms.
“It’s a relatively small investment that will undoubtedly, and incrementally, create a healthier marine environment,” said Jim.
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