Larry Borden has been diving in artificial reefs around Tampa Bay for more than 50 years.
The 70-year-old Manatee County resident, who still regularly dives, remembers diving the One Mile Reef off the coast of Anna Maria Island decades ago.
By this summer, Borden will be able to dive at his namesake reef, the Borden Reef, which will soon be under construction.
“It’s an honor,” said Borden, who is a commercial and recreational fisherman. “Manatee County has yet to name any reefs after anyone. I’m really honored. I’ve worked with the reef system for many, many years.”
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Basically with this reef, we are going to stick with mimicking what’s naturally out there.
Alan Lai Hipp, Manatee County’s environmental program manager
Thanks to a $60,000 grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, coupled with $120,000 from the county, the Borden Reef, which will be located about 6.5 miles offshore almost due west out of Longboat Pass, will be completed by June.
“The site is existing,” said Alan Lai Hipp, the county’s environmental program manager. “It is permitted but it is waiting for materials. It’s a brand new site, so there is nothing out there right now.”
Approximately a quarter-mile by a quarter-mile, the Borden Reef will consist of large, limestone rock, according to Lai Hipp.
“It’s the most natural,” he said of the limestone. “Basically with this reef, we are going to stick with mimicking what’s naturally out there.”
Borden has been a very vocal voice in sustainable fisheries, said Angela Collins, a Florida Sea Grant agent who has known Borden since 2005. Borden is a charter member of both the advisory committee for Florida Sea Grant in Manatee County as well as the Artificial Reef committee.
“I think they could not have picked a better person to name the new reef after,” she said.
The county currently has 15 reefs, which includes a couple of new permitted ones, but officials plan to continue adding reefs in the future, Lai Hipp said. The other permitted but not yet constructed reef is the Bridge Reef, which is five miles off the north end of Anna Maria Island.
“We’re not a big player compared to what we are sandwiched between, Pinellas and Sarasota,” he said.
But even so, a 2010 study on the Economic Impacts of Artificial Reefs in Manatee County showed that the reefs resulted in an annual related impact of more than $23 million.
“On a daily basis, an average of more than 540 persons in Manatee County — residents and visitors included — use artificial reefs,” the study states.
While the Borden Reef will cost $180,000 to construct, the return on investment is huge in terms of the related expenditures people using the reefs spend such as bait, ice and gas, Lai Hipp said.
“I think a lot of people live here because of the water, so it’s those fishing and diving, the recreational opportunities,” he said. “On the environmental side, we are providing habitat and things that weren’t there.”
Since it is a large area, additional materials could be added to the Borden Reef even after it is initially constructed, Lai Hipp said.
“The site has the potential to receive materials for a long time,” he said. “Of course, the idea is to not fill every square inch of it. We want to leave spaces, but 27 acres, that’s a big area.”
Once constructed, it doesn’t take long before the reef is populated.
“Not too long after that, we’ve got a good accumulation of fish,” Lai Hipp said.
The fish not only like to seek shelter in the reefs, but the reefs also support the entire food chain, according to Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s parks and natural resources director.
“It’s an attractive recreational site as well as habitat that we put where no habitat existed on the bottom of the Gulf,” he said.
Every decent day, Borden said, you’ll find boats on every reef.
“It’s really being utilized heavily,” he said.
But reefs have not been talked about enough, Borden said.
“It’s a heck of an asset for the county and the people of Manatee County, particularly,” he said. Through the years, the program hasn’t grown as some of us would like. It’s been a great asset for the county.”