DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — “It’s going to be a very different looking bottom,” said Coastal Resource manager Alex Fogg with the Okaloosa County tourism department.

A new 5 year plan to build and install more artificial reefs along Destin-Fort Walton Beach was announced at the Tourism Development Council meeting.

The overall dream for the project is to make the area a scuba diving destination.

In two years more than 170 reefs have been deployed in the Gulf of Mexico (Okaloosa County waters). Florida as a whole sits behind Alabama for the largest artificial reef program in the country.

Fogg says the new plan will add larger vessels into the gulf, including the DOLPHIN and MANTA from Louisiana.

Okaloosa County coastal resource presentation

“We’re talking about vessels that are closer to 200 or even more feet. We have two large vessels that we’re looking at right now out of Louisiana that are old research vessels that were used in the oil industry and their sister ships, so they’re basically the same thing built a year apart. Ones like 190 feet, ones like 191.”

Alex Fogg

Large vessels like the Tugboat MISS JOANN will be deployed later this year. These larger reef projects will be used to create a boatyard off the coast. Fogg says the boatyard is a single reef site that has two vessels right now and will soon have a third.

“Not only is it long which will allow people to, you know multiple vessels onto it when they go fishing or they go diving. But it’s also very tall, so it allows for people who may not be super experienced divers to do a shallower dive for the top of the vessel before venturing further down.”

Alex Fogg

Fogg says the two larger boats are being funded for deployment by the TDC, a $2 million dollar investment in the $12 million dollar plan.

Reef Map from Okaloosa County TDC

Reefs in Choctawhatchee Bay:

There’s only one public artificial reef site in the bay. It sits off the shore of North Destin.

Fogg says adding snorkel reefs and other habitats on the bayside will give guests more options to explore the underwater world.

“We really want to build that out to provide more opportunities for people who maybe aren’t able to make it offshore due to weather, or maybe don’t have a boat large enough to be able to access those offshore reefs.”

Alex Fogg

Snorkel reefs an option for all visitors:

Artificial reefs are more than a spot for scuba divers. Multiple snorkel reefs sit off the shores in both Okaloosa and Walton Counties.

Fogg says having shallow options opens up the destination to more kinds of tourists.

“So the snorkel reefs, and the Bay reefs, there’s more emphasis on that because of accessibility. The snorkel reefs you don’t need a boat to get to, you can go out with a boogie board or go out with a paddleboard.”

Alex Fogg

Word of mouth:

Fogg says the best way to keep the reef program growing is to talk about it. For visitors coming from out of town, there are shops that will charter you to the reef sites to fish and dive.

“There’s going to be a lot more, a lot more reefs deployed over the coming years, and you know, if you haven’t been here in a little while, it’s going to be a very different looking bottom.”

Alex Fogg

Reef Projects for 2022:

According to the presentation, MISS JOANN tugboat is to be deployed in the coming weeks.

1,000 tons of concrete from the United States Air Force will be deployed in April.

A smaller vessel, CORDONAZO is being prepped to deploy this summer.

The team is working to get another tugboat, MISS NELLIE, and could be deployed in 8 months or so.