Voici Bernadette set to become 52nd artificial reef

The 180-foot coastal freighter Voici Bernadette will be the 52nd artificial reef deployed in 13 years. Photo credit: St. Lucie County Artificial Reef Program.

St. Lucie County Artificial Reef Update: July 2018

On June 7, McCulley Marine Services (MMS) towed the 180-foot coastal freighter Voici Bernadette from the Miami River to the Summerlin dock in the Fort Pierce Inlet to become St. Lucie County’s 52nd artificial reef deployment in the last 13 years. Earlier this year, the St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners voted to accept this donation.

McCulley Marine Services is preparing the vessel for sinking in accordance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s document National Guidance: Best Management Practices for Preparing Vessels Intended to Create Artificial Reefs. All deleterious substances shall be removed from the vessel including, but not limited to 1) floatables (wood, plastics), 2) oil and grease, 3) PCBs, 4) asbestos and 5) lead-based paint (not found so far).  In addition, all glass will be removed (to increase access by marine life) and doors and hatches will be welded open (to improve diver safety).

This reef is intended to be a recreational destination. Due to permit requirements, this freighter must be deployed at depths of 150 feet or greater. With the maximum profile on this ship nearly 100 feet, anglers can fish for either benthic fish (bottom – i.e. snapper, grouper) or pelagic fish (water column – i.e. mackerel, sailfish). Many divers will also be able to use the freighter, subject to their level of certification.

This project is a collaboration of several organizations both inside and outside the County.  The temporarily use of the Summerlin dock by the St. Lucie County Parks and Recreation Department and the infrequent, potential use of the Port of Fort Pierce during non-peak hours shows the environmental commitment of both the Parks and Recreation Department and the Port of Fort Pierce.

MMPS Environmental is preparing a series of fundraising events including concerts, festivals, and memorial plaques to help the County raise funds for cleaning and sinking the Voici Bernadette. Nicknamed “The Peoples Reef” due to their grass roots fundraising and the lack of governmental agency funding, MMPS is banking on its fundraising prowess and the desire of the people to fund this deployment. To emphasize the scientific and recreational aspects of this reef support letters have been provided by high profile conservation organizations (i.e. Coastal Conservation Association, Snook and Gamefish Foundation) and angling organizations (i.e. West Palm Beach Fishing Club).

The Voici Bernedette reef is hoped to recruit the deepwater coral Oculina varicosa and associated fishes. Oculina corals have been discovered growing on the Tug Lesley Lee reef in both the annual monitoring and second annual monitoring. These corals have also been found growing on the Muliphen reef.  It is hoped that high profile, deepwater artificial reefs like the Muliphen and Voici Bernadette will provide additional habitat on which deepwater fish species including gag, scamp, and amberjack can spawn. These three species have been documented in large numbers on the Fort Pierce Sportfishing Club artificial reef site during spawning season.

For more information on the St. Lucie County Artificial Reef Program or the deployment of the Voici Bernadette, contact Jim Oppenborn, St. Lucie County Coastal Resources Coordinator at oppenbornj@stlucieco.org or (772)462-1713.