A nonprofit organization benefitting veterans has received the Volusia County government’s permission to build its first private reef off Ponce Inlet.
Kids 4 Vets, based in Sarasota, is looking for countywide support to build three artificial reef sites to help rehabilitate the local marine ecosystem and promote clean water.
Artificial reefs are not new to Volusia. Since the 1980s, the county has maintained a program to build reefs out of concrete structures and steel ships on the seafloor along the coast, according to the county’s website.
Kids 4 Vets will be using Reef Balls, concrete-mix modules made of marine-safe materials designed to be balanced to the pH of seawater and attract marine life.
Nikki Swain, chief financial officer of Kids 4 Vets, said Reef Balls — supplied by Reef Innovations, a part of the Reef Ball Foundation — have been placed in more than 62 countries around the world over the last 30 years.
“They’re incredibly stable once they’re placed in the water,” she said.
A global impact
The Reef Ball Foundation has worked on 6,500 artificial reef projects and deployed more than 600,000 Reef Balls around the world. According to the Reef Ball Foundation, 54 billion kilograms of biomass will be added to the Earth’s oceans in the next 500 years due to these artificial reef systems.
Swain and Project Manager Tom Wade aim to raise $500,000 for what they have named the “Veterans Reef Project.”
The artificial reef sites will be built in stages, and a percentage of the donations will be set aside to help Volusia County veterans with service animals, mobility aids and outreach. Some of the donation money will also benefit local veterans nonprofits.
“It’s a long-term deal,” Wade said. “We’re not looking for it overnight.”
To raise awareness for their project, Swain and Wade have been visiting local tackle, dive, surf and beachside businesses to ask if they would display either a mini reef aquarium featuring a model Reef Ball or a frame containing a QR code.
Swain started Kids 4 Vets in 2014 to help homeless veterans find housing. The nonprofit holds an annual “Ride 4 Veterans” event during Bike Week, so Swain and Wade are familiar with Volusia County.
Vets for reefs
How did a veterans organization get involved in a reef project? For Swain, a videographer, it started with TikTok.
About three years ago, she was raising money for Kids 4 Vets while going live on the social media platform, and one of the boat owners who places reefs in the Sarasota area noticed and offered to let the group ride along for a reef placement — if she would go live on TikTok.
That’s how Swain and Wade started working for Eternal Reefs, an organization under the Reef Ball Foundation umbrella that places reefs made from a person’s cremated remains.
Those, of course, are more personal reef placements, Swain said.
In Volusia County, Kids 4 Vets hopes to support education about clean water initiatives as well as install artificial reefs.
“Everyone needs to realize how important the water is,” Wade said. “You go boating and you take for granted what’s under the water, how it affects the entire ecosystem.”
Helping Mother Nature
Eventually, Kids 4 Vets also hopes to help install reef systems in the Halifax River, but that requires riverfront property owners’ permission.
Reef Balls can be placed in mangroves, under docks and in other areas of the river shoreline to support oyster restoration, which will help filter the water in the river, Swain said.
People, Wade said, can make a difference in clean water.
“Nature does not build this stuff as fast as we can to help the environment,” Wade said.
“We can do a lot more to help Mother Nature along in the process,” Swain added.
To donate to the Veterans Reef Project, visit kids4vets.org. Live on the river and wand to find out more about Reef Balls? Contact Swain and Wade at [email protected].