Andrew “Red” Harris was a lifelong Jupiter, Florida resident and, like so many other South Florida kids, grew up on the water with his family. By the time he was a young man, Andrew had become an accomplished diver and fisherman, and developed a profound respect for the ocean and Florida’s marine resources. A good athlete growing up, Andrew made the Palm Beach Post All Area teams in basketball and golf. Not many kids could claim either one of these achievements, much less both in the same year. After later graduating from Florida State University with a degree in Risk Management and Insurance, Andrew began his career in the insurance industry in Palm Beach County, and became an expert on the Affordable Care Act.
Sadly, Andrew’s life was cut far too short in June of 2014, when he was killed by a boat while snorkeling in the Jupiter inlet. In honor of Andrew’s life, his family started the Andrew “Red” Harris Foundation, whose mission is to create artificial reefs in Northern Palm Beach County, specifically at depths appropriate for divers and fishermen, some in depths shallow enough for snorkelers, and others in deeper water which will attract pelagic species and prized bottom fish. The reefs should also prove to be prime habitat for multiple bait species. Andrew’s parents, Scott and Martha Harris, spearheaded the effort to raise funds for the foundation, and ended up partnering with various organizations like CCA Florida, government agencies, and several others.
Upon learning about the Foundation and the Harris family’s efforts, CCA’s Building Conservation Trust, donated $25,000 to the initial phase of the project. Sean Stone, CCA’s Building Conservation Trust’s Executive Director, was on site to watch the deployment of the first 40 modules in August of this year. “It will be very difficult to tell this is anything but a natural reef within a few short months,” Sean said. “This is the kind of exciting project we are targeting to enhance the local marine environment and to expand opportunities for anglers and divers. We are very proud to be a part of this partnership.” Although certainly a part of the CCA family, the Building Conservation Trust is a separate 501(C)(3) organization exclusively dedicated to habitat creation and restoration. BCT funds are oftentimes combined with local CCA chapter efforts to organize conservation projects that inspire local communities to work together for marine conservation.
The first phase of the Harris Foundation reef project was deployed about one mile northeast of Jupiter Inlet in 80 feet of water. The reef modules were sunk in a 60,000 square foot area, covering well over an acre. The innovative reef designs were engineered to provide a specific habitat environment favored by a wide range of marine organisms, and should foster a flourishing ecosystem in an area that previously was only flat sand. Each one has a profile of about 8 feet off of the bottom, and will allow current to pass through. Sunlight will be able to penetrate the water at the reef’s depth, which will help foster its development. The Foundation has plans in place to deploy another 100 reef cells in the summer of 2016, and is currently raising funds for the additional reef modules.
“Anglers in boats of all sizes target a wide range of pelagic species in this area of Florida, from sailfish to amberjack, so the reef has the potential to make a noticeable impact as a destination for divers and fisherman,” said J.D. Dickenson, CCA Florida Habitat Committee Chairman. “With the reef acting as refuge for forage fish, we expect a wide variety of gamefish to call the new structures home.” To J.D.’s point, early reports from divers on the reef site in just a few short weeks observed schools of baitfish by the hundreds, blue runners, jacks, snappers, and goliath grouper.
The new reef site is expected to positively impact local economies by enticing anglers and divers to utilize local boat charters, guides, hotels, and restaurants, as they explore the new resource. According to Alan Richardson, chairman of the Organization for Artificial Reefs, based in Tallahassee, every dollar spent locally on an artificial reef projects returns roughly $138 to local communities.
Also contributing to the first phase of the project were Palm Beach County, the town of Jupiter, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Palm Beach County Fishing Foundation (the charitable arm of the West Palm Beach Fishing Club), Jupiter Dive Center, and Pineapple Grove Designs, among many others. To help fund the project, the Foundation has also organized fundraising events, including a lionfish derby in July, and an annual golf tournament in October. Visit https://andrewredharrisfoundation.org for more information.
“For every $1 put into BUILDING CONSERVATION TRUST, $2.70 in habitat has been produced.”
From a plaque secured on one of the Andrew Harris Foundation’s reef modules sponsored by CCA Florida and CCA’s Building Conservation Trust.