South Walton's lone artificial reef, now a year and a half old, will be getting some company by mid August.

Walton County Board of County Commissioners approved in January Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funds to be spent building three more artificial reefs.

These new reefs will express South Walton's creativity, said Andy McAlexander, president of the all-volunteer South Walton Artificial Reef Association.

The three snorkel reefs will be built in the waters off Miramar Beach, Topsail and Inlet Beach.

The one at Miramar will be shaped like a dolphin; the one at Topsail shaped like a seahorse; and the one at Inlet will be shaped like a cobia.

"It's cool and marketable," said McAlexander. "The one in Navarre just has three rows of towers. We're more creative here. We wanted more. It makes us unique and just proves how creative we are in Walton County."

McAlexander credits the organization's vice president, Jim Richard, for coming up with the idea.

Walton presently has one snorkel reef off Grayton Beach plus one memorial reef.

The snorkel reef is made of pilings and closer in. The memorial reef is farther out in a dive location, he explained.

Artificial reefs provide habitat to breeding species, said McAlexander, and offer residents and visitors the opportunity to explore.

"Anything you put in attracts fish," he said. "Fish are using it and calling it home that typically wouldn't be seen in Florida. Fish are using it as a secure shelter."

McAlexander got the idea to do this when he attended a seminar at Nokose Plantation presented by a group of environmentalists discussing ideas to use BP oil money.

"I thought, 'What can I come up with that would have ecological benefit and also have an economic return on investment and creates opportunity,' " he said.

He started attending seminars and saw evidence of economic return for created fish habitat.

The reefs are made of concrete, steel and limestone, and vary in size.

Each of the 12 dive reefs will include roughly 15 grouper boxes that provide shelter.

The reefs are being built by Walter Marine in Orange Beach and are expected to be ready by mid-August.

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