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Yacht no more: Artificial reef to help replenish rare coral in St Lucie County

127-foot yacht to become latest artificial reef
Posted at 8:40 AM, Jul 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-15 08:44:02-04

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A 127-foot yacht is set to become an artificial reef in St. Lucie County.

This is a partnership between St. Lucie County's Artificial Reef Program and the Marine Cleanup Initiative.

"Our purpose in St. Lucie County is to help create an artificial reef program to help flourish the reef in our county to make it stronger and better," Arnold Stirzinger, president of the Marine Cleanup Initiative, said.

This is the 55th reef that has been deployed by the ARP.

Joel Lopez shown gutted interior of yacht that will become artificial reef
WPTV's Joel Lopez is shown the gutted interior of a yacht that will soon become an artificial reef in St. Lucie County.

"In the last decade, because of the UV rays getting through, it's becoming harmful to the reefs around the world," Stirzinger said. "The Great Barrier Reef, which is one of the largest ones in the entire world, 3/4 of it has died off because of bleaching from the sun. And when that happens, the reef literally dies and all aquatic life that lives off of these reefs are going to die also."

They said shade from the boats they sink as artificial reefs helps reduce the temperatures on the ocean floor and provides researchers an opportunity to study environmental and man-made impacts on corals.

"This particular vessel will be down in depth at about 125-160," Christa Stone, director of operations at the MCI, said.

For 10 months, crews have been stripping it down to its bare bones, leaving only aluminum and removing anything that may be considered harmful to marine life.

The ship's name is the A.A. Hendry Reef as a tribute to the Hendry family, who are pioneers of St. Lucie, Martin and Hendry counties.

It will be sunk 10 miles off the St. Lucie Inlet.

"We are expecting her to be full of white oculina, so she will actually be considered the first oculina nursery out of the oculina banks," Stone said. "The more we are being more proactive and preventative at trying to maintain the sustainability out here, we have a greater chance at a healthier ecosystem."

Christina Stone talks about sinking of yacht to become artificial reef
Christa Stone, director of operations at the Marine Cleanup Institute, says the artificial reef will provide a "greater chance at a healthier ecosystem."

Oculina is a white fan-like coral that the MCI said can only be found in St. Lucie County.

"We're losing the oculina coral," Jack McCulley, vice president of McCulley Marine Services, said. "Now we're doing everything we can to repopulate it."

The crew believes that coral like oculina is attracted to aluminum.

"This particular project is one that is going to help with the coral and certainly have an opportunity of a strategy moving forward for science to study when it comes to the observation of the reef, as well as its temperature and certainly the depth levels that have changed with the oculina spores," Stone said.

The ship departed from Causeway Cove Marina at about 6 a.m. Saturday. It was expected to arrive at the deployment area by about 9 a.m.

"We want to keep our aquatic life alive for our younger generations and that's what it's all about," Stirzinger said.

Sinking begins at the coordinates:
(27°26'12.0"N / 80°01'08.0"W).