St. Lucie County Installing Artificial Reef Inside Fort Pierce Inlet
St. Lucie County’s Erosion District has begun installing a limestone boulder reef inside the Fort Pierce Inlet just off Raccoon Island in preparation for a sand-bypass trap to collect beach-quality sand that gets pulled into the inlet.
Permitted through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Underwater Engineering Services, Inc. has already begun placing the large boulders in the inlet north of the Intracoastal Waterway. These boulders are being placed within 10 to 18 feet of water. The reef will be roughly one-third of an acre in size and will consist of 16 individual cells that are approximately 20 feet by 40 feet in size. The cost of this project is $567,478 and is expected to last until mid-June.
The mitigation reef is needed to offset anticipated impacts to low-relief, hard bottom documented within the future sand trap construction area.
Boaters should use caution within the areas around Racoon Island to ensure safety. A minimum of depth of four feet will be maintained over the reef to ensure safe boating operations.
The reef has an additional benefit in that it will act as habitat for juvenile fishes such as gag (Mycteroperca microlepis) and black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci) that spend their early life history in the Indian River Lagoon. As these fish get larger, they move through the Fort Pierce Inlet to reefs and artificial reefs offshore. Hard bottoms in the Fort Pierce Inlet such as the limestone boulder reef and wormrock reef provide protection from larger predators during these movements. This limestone boulder reef will be an important benefit to inshore and offshore fish stocks in the future.
St. Lucie is currently seeking bids to construct the sand trap with a goal to begin construction this summer. The sand trap is slated to be built on the north side of the Fort Pierce Inlet, creating an area deeper than the normal depth of the inlet to allow sand that is pulled into the Fort Pierce Inlet to be collected for later distribution back onto the beaches, instead of having to dredge sand from offshore or haul sand via trucks. The federally maintained Fort Pierce Inlet breaks the natural flow of sand from North Hutchinson Island to South Hutchinson Island.