In 1985, the Jacksonville Offshore Sport Fishing Club's Reef (JOSFC) Committee was laying out plans to deploy an artificial reef made out of concrete culverts. A grant proposal to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had been approved. The DNR levied a new requirement that an underwater documented survey of the proposed site had to be performed prior to the deployment of the artificial reef. The DNR required visual confirmation that the ocean floor at this site would be firm enough to support several hundred tons of concrete culverts. The site survey would also make sure that the deployment would not be dropped on a site that already had a natural marine reef or ledge.
The DNR was also making overtures that continuous monitoring of the artificial reefs might become part of future grant requirements. The JOSFC Reef Committee knew that from then on, just placing reef material beneath the ocean and hoping for the best would not be enough. Additional information on site reports and follow up reef monitoring would soon become part of the grant proposal. Adding to the Reef Committee's concern was the fact that they knew of only one trained research diver to accomplish this task.
The big question was "Who would or could provide this necessary service"? The most logical answer was to employ the assistance of local sport divers. It would take SCUBA divers to penetrate the 80 - 100 foot plus depths to survey proposed reef sites. The survey would also require the reefs' condition be documented, and one diver could not fill such an order. As participants of the Reef Committee and members of the Jacksonville Scubanauts dive club, Dennis Short and Don Landis suggested that the Scubanauts could provide an excellent source of experienced offshore divers. They only needed to acquire the skills and techniques necessary to properly document these reefs. Ed Kalakuskis, Jacksonville's only trained diver actively involved in the reef building program, advised them that they should approach the Florida Sea Grant Extension Program where he had received his training. Florida Sea Grant had trained scores of research divers in the past, but had never offered the service to a recreational dive club. There was much skepticism on just how seriously a sport diving club would accept the rigid discipline of scientific data collection. It was a new concept and Florida Sea Grant elected to accept the challenge.
Under the direction and tutelage of Sea Grant Agent Joe Halusky, 22 members of the Jacksonville Scubanauts Diving club began an intensive training program spanning a seven-month period, which began on September 22, 1986. Classroom sessions, underwater skills tests, open ocean experimental expeditions, and even fish counting exercises at EPCOT's Living Seas were included in the agenda. At the conclusion, the City of Jacksonville had not one research diver to choose from, but 23. It was this initial training program, coupled with the experience and enthusiasm of the first 22 Scubanauts members that formed the nucleus of the present day Jacksonville Reef Research Team.
Original Charter Members are:
Second Row: Ray Hillier, Dr. Quinton White, Wendy Short, Leon DuFresne, Mark Ullmann, Larry Tipping, Jeff Brayton, Joe Halusky, John Hammond, Don Bencivenni, Dennis Short, Rusty Stoudenmire, Bud Porter, Dick Barker
First Row: Phil Ferris, Mike McAllister, Tim Armstrong, Shawn Brayton, Carolyn VanNess, Carol Porter, Diane Stoudenmire, Claudette Barker, Beth Strawbridge, Jim Powell
Additional Charter Members not in the photo: Tom Dennard, Bob Engle, Joy Engle, Don Landis, Kim Ullmann
Note: The names italicized were team advisors and instructors.
In 1987, the Co-training Officer, Beth Strawbridge and Don Landis developed a training program for the Jacksonville Reef Research Team, based on the Sea Grant Agenda, that has been used every year to train new Team members. Beth Strawbridge and Don Landis also created the PADI teaching outlines.
The Team created a dive safety board and elected officers which created a highly effective organizational chart. With a continuing commitment to maintain a trained force of research divers, the team has trained over 150 divers and has an average of over 40 active members each year.
Since 1986, hundreds of projects have been undertaken which include:
- Reef mapping
- Artificial reef monitoring
- Great American Fish Count
- Volunteering at the Jazz Festival
- Jacksonville Reef Research Team's Website
- Fish Identification classes for divers and fishermen
- Identification and cataloging of marine invertebrates
- Site surveys for the cities of Jacksonville and Fernandina
- Publication of "JaxSpots" guide to reefs Offshore Jacksonville
- Educational exhibits at MOSH and at events such as Earth Day and the Right Whale Festival
- Establishment of permanent underwater benchmarks for future reef evaluation
- Adopt a Highway Program
- St. Johns River Clean Up and International Coastal Clean Up
Today, the Jacksonville Reef Research Team, a non-profit volunteer organization, continues to use the research diving techniques first taught in 1986 to deploy, monitor, and enhance Artificial Reefs off-shore Jacksonville.
If you are interested in becoming a member of the Jacksonville Reef Research Team, you can contact a member of the Team on the Contacts Page. Also be sure to check out our facebook page.