To clear a path for expansion of Port Everglades, federal engineers plan to build an artificial reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale and fill it with 100,000 corals grown in nurseries onshore. The tentative plan — a breakthrough after 17 years of debate — removes a major hurdle to the port’s long-sought goal of dredging and widening to accommodate gigantic vessels expected to pass through a widened Panama Canal.
That could mean a burst of business and thousands of new jobs, setting off economic ripples across the state. Smaller hurdles remain, leaving the timetable for construction uncertain, but port officials say the reef plan puts the dredging project on track to be completed in 2017.
Some environmentalists remain wary of the impact of dredging, which will dislodge ancient coral beds near the port’s entrance. But local officials are delighted at the prospect of bolstering the region’s famous coral reef farther offshore while expanding the port.
“I think it’s a win-win,” said Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca.
“We have a big resource in our coral reefs. That’s a big reason people come to Florida, along with our beaches, tourism at the port, cruise ships and all that. It’s not a good thing that we are going to lose any coral. But we’re going to lose coral in an area of commerce, and we’re going to replace it with man-made areas for coral to grow on and actually increase our scuba, snorkeling and diving industry.”
The plan, put together by regional officials of the Army Corps of Engineers and National Marine Fisheries Service, calls for an artificial reef made of limestone boulders to be placed near the natural reef that runs in underwater ridges along the South Florida coast, a popular site for fishermen, divers and snorkelers. The cost is expected to be $20 million to $25 million.
Some of the corals dislodged from the port’s inlet would be moved to the new artificial reef, or to the existing natural reef, in waters 40 to 55 feet deep. Those corals would be supplemented by thousands of others grown in nurseries. Continue reading….