Marine scientist creates mini reef to filter Bay Area waterways

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A Florida marine researcher has spent years on something that may help Florida’s water problems.

He's created artificial reefs that help naturally filter ocean water. He’s making waves in the fight against red tide, as well.

Our water quality is everything. Anyone who lives near or Florida’s waterways shares some of the concern and some of the blame.

When people built tens of thousands of miles of seawalls, natural shorelines that contribute to water quality were destroyed. The roots of mangroves that used to grow there were the ideal environment for millions of micro-organisms that purify water.

However, now that many of those are gone, David Wolff says he has a solution. He's designed corrugated plastic and PVC mini reefs.

They’re submerged under docks to replicate root systems, giving millions of micro-organisms a place to grab on and make a new home.

Wolff showed FOX 13 a reef that has been in the water only nine months and already it’s covered with life.

"There's room for baby fish to live in there, grow up, baby crabs, just like they would in nature,” Wolff pointed out.

The mini reef is now home to sponges, sea squirts, oysters, and tiny fish act as filters, making water quality around them improve in a matter of months.    

Once the reefs are fully developed, a single unit can clean and filter more than 30,000 gallons of water per day. That's enough water to fill a typical Florida swimming pool, every day.

When Erik Iversen found out about the mini reef, he had one installed under the dock behind his home on Tampa Bay, in Coquina Key.

We absolutely wanted to do what we can, a little bit of something to clean water," Iversen said.

His reef has been in place for just more than a year and he says they’ve seen an increase in sea life.

City and county leaders across the state are also taking notice.

Denis Frain is the director of marina operations for the city of Gulfport. After the red tide outbreak of 2018, he convinced city leaders to purchase and install 20 of them below their city docks.

“We have a huge fishing community here and these will attract fish crabs and everything a fisherman needs for that," Frain said.

And because larger filter-feeder fish will consume red tide bacteria and toxins, additional natural filters are a welcome idea.

"To clean billions of gallons of water, that is hard. But these would help. It would not solve the problem, would not eliminate the problem, but it would be beneficial for sure," he said.

For more information about the mini reefs, visit