The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Division of Marine Fisheries Management administers a state artificial reef program legislatively created in 1982, authorized under s. 379.249 Florida Statutes and Chapter 68E-9 Florida Administrative Code. The program was transferred to the Commission from the Department of Environmental Protection on July 1, 1999. The primary program objectives are to provide financial and technical assistance to coastal local governments, nonprofit corporations and state universities to develop artificial reefs and to monitor and evaluate these reefs. Under the program, reefs have been constructed with one or more of the following intended objectives:
- enhance private recreational and charter fishing and diving opportunities;
- provide a socio-economic benefit to local coastal communities;
- increase reef fish habitat;
- reduce user conflicts;
- facilitate reef related research; and,
- while accomplishing objectives 1-5, do no harm to fishery resources, Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) or human health.
Other reef building objectives undertaken in Florida, beyond the scope of the FWC artificial reef program include mitigation or restoration reefs replacing hard bottom habitat lost through such activities as beach re-nourishment, repair of reef system damage caused by vessel groundings, substrate for the regeneration of oyster reefs and protection of re-planted vegetated shorelines vulnerable to erosion from wave activity.
Florida has one of the most active artificial reef programs among the 14 Gulf and Atlantic coastal states involved in artificial reef development. The Florida artificial reef program is the only state program that is not exclusively run at a state agency level where the state holds all the reef area permits. Because of the extent of coastline and statewide involvement in reef activities, the FWC program continues a cooperative partnership with local coastal county governments. Today, some local coastal cities, universities and qualified nonprofit corporations also work directly with the FWC in artificial reef development and monitoring activities.
Thirty-four of Florida’s 35 coastal counties spread along 8,426 miles of tidal coastline (1,200 miles fronting the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean) are, or have been, involved in artificial reef development. Starting in the 1940s through August 2012, more than 2,700 planned public artificial reefs have been placed in state and federal waters off these counties. Most of the artificial reef development has taken place since the inception of the Florida Artificial Reef Program in 1982. Local coastal governments hold all of the more than 300 active artificial reef permits off both Florida coasts. About half of these sites are in federal waters. Fishing clubs, nonprofit corporations and interested private individuals work through their local governments as the liable permit holders to provide input into public reef building activities.