Siesta Key residents hope mini reefs will help improve water quality, ecosystem in canals

SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Water quality concerns on Siesta Key have prompted residents to take action. They’re working on a project to filter water in the island’s Grand Canal and ultimately bring more marine life into the area.

People who live along the canal tell 8 On Your Side they’ve watched the environment change and unfortunately, not for the better.

“Several years ago, we had a lot of dead fish and the fishing hasn’t been the same,” said resident Bruce Luberski. “We used to be able to catch fish right off of our dock,” he continued.

The Siesta Key Grand Canal Regeneration Project started as a pilot program in 2020. It’s since grown across the island. The latest installation came this month in Martin’s part of the island. A $9,000 Sarasota County Initiative Grant covered the cost to purchase and install 30 new mini reefs in that neighborhood.

“It seemed to me that the fish habitat has been diminishing the last couple of years. We would rarely see snook, we would see a lot of mullet, but even the mullet had dropped. We are hoping that this is going to improve it,” said President of the Waterside East HOA Jim Martin.

The mini reefs made by Ocean Habitats Inc. are made for brackish and/or saltwater use. Each reef can filter about 30,000 gallons of water per day, according to the creators. The reefs are placed under docks and out of sight. They exist in more than 200 coastal communities in Florida, 23 states, and a few other countries.

Dr. David Wolff with Ocean Habitats Inc. tells 8 On Your Side that man-made reefs start filtering water soon after they’re installed.

“They start filtering water right away. It takes about six months to build up to the full filtering capacity, but within 30 days, you actually have a lot of life living on the reef,” said Dr. Wolff. ” They are a food source for stone crab, shrimp and little tiny baby fish that you see in big schools. You start to get like a food chain and a lifecycle going almost immediately which is cool to see an area that is kind of devoid of life kind of explode once there is something to help it out,” he continued.

The mini reefs can survive storms and even hurricanes, according to Dr. Wolff. He says they’re made up of the same material used to make docks.

Dr. Wolff has helped the Siesta Key Grand Canal Regeneration Project install nearly 300 mini reefs so far.

“The goal for the association is 1500 for the Grand Canal. We have put some in ourselves outside of that project, but we definitely want to encourage residents if they want to be a part of this, the goal is to have those in and help clean up the Grand Canal in a few years,” said Dr. Wolff.

Residents who live on the canal tell 8 On Your Side they’re already starting to see positive change. Luberski has had a mini reef under his dock for about nine months.

“There is a lot of growth on it and because of that growth, there is a lot of marine life starting to accumulate around it. I see little fish. I actually see a little bit more fish in our part of the canal that I have an a while. You may know we were hit pretty hard by red tide and maybe this will help a lot,” said the Siesta Key homeowner.