Thanks to British Petroleum (BP) decimating the oceanic habitats in the Gulf of Mexico with the infamous Deepwater Horizon spill, their Gulf Tourism and Seafood Promotional Fund is now being forced to fork over $1.3 million in grants to Naples, Marco Island, and Collier County, Florida. Teamed with the Community Foundation of Collier County and the Economic Recovery Task Force, these three governments have chosen to spend this money by purchasing and installing “six 500-ton reefs the size of football fields, each with six smaller pyramid-shaped modules 8 to 12 feet high” 12-30 miles offshore. These reefs are meant to provide jobs and revenue, but will the economic prosperities outweigh the overall long-term environmental impacts?
Many of the reefs off Marco Island and the southern tier of Florida have been destroyed by hurricanes and turbulent waves. As a result, many fish that would otherwise thrive in these waters are left vulnerable to outside predators. This in turn damages marine ecology and hurts tourism as well, since tourists who come by to fish walk away empty-handed. That’s where the reefs come in, and they’re recycled, by the way, so relax and keep your swim trunks on, fellow eco-worriers.
“Fish have to have structures to live in. We need to increase our fish population. It will have an economic impact on the community by attracting more tourism” said Naples attorney and fisherman Peter Flood. In addition to providing cover for fish that would otherwise get sniped by larger fish before they’re able to grow to maturity, the reef system is expected to launch a diving industry and attract high-dollar national fishing tournaments. According to a 2011 University of Florida Sea Grant report, estimates say that the project should bring $30 million in revenue over the coming years by boosting eco-tourism, hotel stays, dining, shopping, fishing, diving, bait shop sales, etc. As a minimalist who thinks the economy is screwed and capitalism is wack, that hurts my soul, but we’re all technically slowly dying more and more every day anyway so let’s move beyond that for now.
That same report mentioned above found that “…the users of artificial reefs created 2,600 jobs that generated $253 million annually for those counties,” said Nancy Richie, Marco Island’s environmental specialist. And for those of you Floridians who are already complaining about the taxes involved, no taxpayer dollars are going to fund this project. In fact, if you really want to demonstrate your income you can donate $100k to the project and have your name permanently displayed on it. People with money tend to like that kind of thing. For a measly $2,500 you can have your name on a plaque nearby, where benches will be installed for selfie purposes.
All of this is well and good. I’m not a big fan of tourism and I personally think eco-tourism is kind of a joke with a lack of environmental stewardship and greenwashing, but I’m willing to put those thoughts aside and say that this will probably be good for the economy of Collier County. With that in mind, however, the environment and the economy go hand-in-hand: what hurts one ultimately hurts the other, so it’s important to ask the question of whether or not this expanded tourism and reef activity will be good for the environment in the long-term.
Weighing the pros and cons, let’s see how it pans out. First, it seems as though tourism will improve and that might make more people care about the Earth, but it could also bring a lot of excess boating and fuel emissions from giant posh yachts. Second, increased tourism means more shopping, which most people like, but that brings with it a continuation of the capitalist economy, which many would say is doomed to fail because of our planet’s finite resources and our constant thirst and false understanding that more is better. Third, and this is just a possibility, more fish means more predatory fish lurking around reefs, which could end in a shark attack. That last one is really just my imagination.
“It is probably the most significant public-private project we have ever done and it is going to be an enormous benefit to our economy—both for the tourism industry and for residents,” said Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, the Florida State Representative who donated her unused campaign funds. “This is the kind of project that is not just great for the community, but it’s great for the state at large.” -via Naples News
All these so-called experts are saying good things, so we should believe them, right? Well, even experts can be wrong. So, in the end, I’m sorry to say it seems like we’ll have to wait and see what this reef system truly means for the environment, as we will with most things. I’m not a big fan of open-ended articles so I’m sorry if you wanted a surefire answer, but at least now when someone asks you about reefs (which, let’s be real, could be any time in the next 50+ years) you’ll have some framework of an answer for them. That’s enough to make most people at least think a little more about stuff like this. And that’s all we can ask for, really.
Photos by the author