JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A Jacksonville-area group is working to reduce the amount of trash in landfills and increase the number of fish of the coasts of Nassau, Duval and St. John's counties.
Think It, Sink It, Reef It is a non-profit dedicated to developing artificial reefs made of waste materials from various construction projects across northeast Florida.
In July, the group arranged for nearly 700 tons of concrete from a housing development on Atlantic Boulevard to be taken by barge 12 miles off the coast of Ponte Vedra.
"Some people, when they first see it, don't have a clue, and that's what it appears is that we're just throwing waste material offshore," said Joe Kistel, executive director of TISIRI. "They're placed kind of randomly out there in a pile, and they stack up against each other, and that randomness is actually what makes it a productive habitat."
When it settles 72 feet below the surface, the concrete will become one of hundreds of artificial reefs that have become home to a variety sea life that will repopulate and grow.
"When we put a structure out there, it's just like putting a castle in a fish aquarium," said artificial reef consultant Ed Kalakauskis.
Kalakauskis says the local effort to build artificial reefs began in the 1960s as a way to attract fishermen to northeast Florida's otherwise scarce, sandy bottom.
"Where's that fish go? Poof! Right to the castle. Basically it's the same thing," he says.
Since then, marine scientists from around the world have come to northeast Florida to study the effort and the effects the materials have on sea life.
"There's no asphalt on it," says Kistel, "There's no grease. There's no oil, and the rebar's cut clean. Simply put, we are placing material on the sea floor, but Mother Nature's doing all the work."
For now, it's difficult to know the economic impact these reefs have on the fishing industry.
"We can't put a dollar value on it because this will be here long when we're all gone," said Kalakauskis. "We know initially that the impact will be great, but over the years it will probably be even greater."
For now, it's bringing attention to the Jacksonville community, which is a growing competitor in Florida's fishing industry.
"Right now when out-of-state fisherman look at Florida, they automatically assume south Florida because that's where all the marketing is, and it's obvious you can fish down there, where north Florida is a hot spot, but not a lot of people know about it," says Kistel. "The more reefs we build and exposure we get, we're trying to bring that attraction to northeast Florida and benefit our community."