THE REEF THAT USED TO BE THERE!

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School of Porkfish, Anisotremus virginicus

This article was originally posted on 4Boca.com

Publisher’s Comment:

With the importance of ‘waterfront development’ finally front and center; with the City Council’s engagement of an outside consultant to help bring to life the often quoted notion of ‘a city within a park’ and with the residents’ overwhelming direction that the waterfront must be preserved for recreational purposes, it is refreshing and exciting to find this August 7th article pointing out that humankind’s meddling with nature is incredibly harmful.

Thank you to 4BOCA.COM for presenting such an educational piece capturing the history of Red Reef Park and its natural attraction for residents and tourists alike. City Council Members and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park Commissioners must be made to see the dangers of destroying the pristine beauty of Boca Raton’s Beach in the name of ‘development.’

There is no greater glaring example of human interference with nature than demonstrated in this article. Further development on our beach should be halted immediately as against the common good; against the public interest.

Please let your voices be heard…Stop the growing intrusions on Boca Raton’s beach. Once the beach is gone, it is gone forever; like the reef at Red Reef Park.

Al Zucaro

In front of Red Reef Park, only a few steps into the ocean, there used to be a magnificent reef. It’s not there at all now, at least not where you can see it. This reef was very beautiful, had so much life growing on it and swimming around it, it was one of the most stunning places to snorkle. But it’s all dead and buried now.

THE REEF THAT THE PARK RED REEF WAS NAMED AFTER WAS REALLY BEYOND WORDS, BUT I’LL DO MY BEST TO DESCRIBE WHAT IT WAS LIKE.

The reef was a series of large, squared off boulders, each about as wide as a double lane road. They were huge, and the corners of them were squared off, so they appeared like a long line that could have been man-made, like they were dropped there, but they were massive. Under some there were ledges and dark caves that served as hiding places for anything large. Between some were gaps, sometimes 8 to 10 feet deep. They were only about 10 or 20 yards off shore, so for kids like I was in the late 70s, it was easy to get to and snorkle. Some of the rock structure still can be seen where the water meets the land, in front of the lifeguard stand closest to the entrance.

There were all sorts of colorful things growing on and around the reef. There were purple sea fans and sponges. The red coral that gave the reef it’s name coated the surface of the boulders wherever it could. The green sea plants grew in hundreds of hues, patterns and shapes. Long grasses, tiny nodules, and fuzzy hair algae waved back and forth with the waves. When I swam the reef I remember seeing a large brain coral growing, and recalled how Gordon Gilbert said how those kinds of coral took centuries to get so large.

AMAZING DISPLAYS OF MARINE LIFE WERE ONLY STEPS AWAY.

The fish and sea creatures that called the reef home were diverse. The same can be seen if you visit the reef south of the inlet, out as far as the lifeguard bouy, 50+ feet off shore. Red Reef had that volume of marine life just steps away. Not just tens of fish, but often thousands and thousands.

There were giant clouds of baby fish, tiny Sergeant Majors, small little rainbows in the thousands, all looking back at you as you marveled at them. There were big parrot fish, bright blue and pastel buck tooth grazers. They’d be chomping on the algae stuck to rocks all around you, filling the water with the sound of their teeth scraping against the rock to remove the algae they ate. There were some Moray Eels and barracuda, but you knew they wouldn’t mess with you unless you got too close or messed with them. I remember pressing myself close to the reef, up against the wall of stone that faced out into the depths, watching a manta ray cruise by, shocked by its proportions. Sometimes there were turtles and sometimes octopus. You could always count on seeing something different, something new and wonderful that you hadn’t seen before. For many young people growing up in Boca, this is where they fell in love with the ocean, the gateway to knowing it’s treasures, but now that gate is closed. Many won’t have the same opportunity to fall in love with the ocean as I had.

If you mention Red Reef to locals, and ask them if they remember the reef, many say “yeah, those boulders they dropped out there” not knowing there was ever anything more there. People don’t realize that those boulders were put there to compensate for something wonderful, something that’s now lost.  They don’t realize that under the sand there’s still those rock formations, waiting some day to be uncovered and reclaimed by marine life.

The reason the reef has been covered over is dredging, beach restoration. The city made the decision long ago to prioritize having wide beaches and fighting their erosion over preserving the marine habitats. Sand is sucked from off shore and pumped back on to the beach regularly. This covers the reef at Red Reef due to it’s intended effect of making the beach wider for the entire coastline of Boca Raton. Boca isn’t the only city who does it – it’s seen as a necessity to protect property, people’s homes. In some cities to the north where restoration isn’t invested in, coastal properties have suffered badly. Plus having no beach is a bummer, face it. It’s nice to go to the beach and sit on sand instead of rocks.

IS THERE A SOLUTION TO RESTORING THE REEF, SOME KIND OF MIDDLE GROUND THAT FACILITATES RESTORATION TOO?

Unfortunately the coastal water flows steadily in opposition to the farther Gulf Stream. This means sand pumped in one place will eventually migrate south. The sand doesn’t really stay put that well like the old sand did because it’s a different texture, not as sticky. We used to have sand that was mostly shells, now it’s more fine silica particles. So the new beach erodes faster than the old one.

If the reef ever stands a chance of restoration, having the sand removed and marine life returning to it’s many nooks and crevices, then the only solution would be one that uses the power of the water to keep the sand where it’s supposed to be, yet create enough flow around the reef to keep it clear. This may be able to be done. It’s at least worth having the city consider. If there is a way to have the restoration continue while restoring the reef, that should be investigated.  We have a perpendicular flow to the coast. We may be able to use that energy to keep the sand where we want it, yet expose the reef yet again.

Watch this video about a hydrologist whose theories on water flow allowed communities to manage their river erosion problems. Maybe we could do better?

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. The process of dredging is one of the most destructive things that can be done to a marine environment. Thre are ways to mitigate beach loss, but most cities are fearful of lawsuits from their neighbors to the south. What’s needed is a multi-city working group who can agree on a plan that’s good for all. I’d be happy to participate or lead such a group. Any takers out there?

  2. Dear Al,
    What an enlightening article…also very sad! Thank you for sharing. Here’s hoping that the powers that be can put their heads together to come up with a much needed solution.

  3. It’s also probably worth mentioning that the Red Reef structure has not moved or receded – it’s solid rock. So the fact that it is covered means that we are not “re-nourishing” our beaches. We are expanding them!

  4. Great article, I couldn’t agree with the author more.
    I’d like to improve on the losses we have at Red Reef Park by suggesting we build an artificial reef to replace the one we lost. Let’s work with the state (myfwc.com) to build a snorkeling reef accessible from the beach.
    I can just imagine bringing back all that sea life to our Boca Raton beach. Snorkeling the reef would be a great family activity that would benefit our residents, visitors and local dive shops. And it’s the right thing to do, to mitigate for the loss of this marine habitat.
    The state has over 2,700 artificial reefs already with one currently being built at the Jupiter inlet. If we decide this is a priority for us, we can get this done.

  5. When the City will require that the grass cuttings must be picked up by the Commercial Grass cutters. Instead of blowing them in to the street.. The grass and chemicals go into the sewer lines and to the Outfall Pipe.

  6. I wrote the article. I grew up on the beach here. I know what was lost.
    I was a Park Ranger when the City decided to start the dredging. I watched the first ton of dark muddy sand pour over our yellow shelled beach. My job was to keep people away from the pipe. So I watched it happen day after day. There was this young lady, and engineer who was working with Coastal Planning and Engineering, the company that got the contract. I asked her too many questions, and she went to my managers and told them I was harassing her. I was told to stop asking her questions. I didn’t know what to do at the time, so I just watched it all get buried. It was like watching an old friend die in slow motion. I just can’t believe I stood there, did nothing about it, and just watched.

  7. Jason,

    Your article boldly and clearly defines the disastrous results of our misguided dredging. Thank you for getting this out there to promote better understanding of what once was and what now is.

    Ahhh yes. Our beaches used to be heavy grained, shelled, and yellowish. Beautiful. They held up better from beach erosion and never blew in your face on a windy day! Offshore dredging has ruined the texture and aesthetics of the beaches. Fine gray sand is ugly. Dredging continues causing ruination of habitat and ongoing erosion due to the fine silty nature of the offshore ocean bottom sand pumped onto our beaches. In short time this sand washes back out to sea. We should barge in Bahaman sand which is very much like our old sand. It certainly has more desirable qualities in addition to being less prone to erosion. And there are businesses that offer this service…Please see webite link – http://thecoastalstar.com/profiles/blogs/along-the-coast-will-our-next-beach-renourishment-use-bahamian-sa

    Craig

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