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Artificial Snorkeling Reefs Along the Emerald Coast

Updated on February 13, 2019

What is so special about the the Emerald Coast?

The Emerald Coast of Florida is captivating with its Gulf breezes, gorgeous emerald green water that gave the area its name, and the white sand beaches that were originally Appalachian quartz that washed up by the tides over thousands of years and became fine white powder. Freshly-caught fish are expertly prepared and served just hours after being caught in the Gulf. There are dolphins to watch, swimming, water sports, boating, fishing, shopping, strolls on boardwalks on Okaloosa Island and in Destin, and much more.

The Snorkeling Reefs along the Emerald Coast


How the Reefs got their start

Nothing is more unusual and outstanding as a picturesque backdrop for a dream vacation and water adventure than the artificial reefs that are exciting recreational opportunities while being excellent for the ecosystem.

Andy McAlexander, a local Walton County resident and lifelong SCUBA diver, was inspired in 2013 with the idea of having artificial reefs near the Gulf of Mexico's shore. He was the founder and is the current president of the non-profit South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) that developed an amazing plan for 13 environmentally-safe reefs having 75 to 100 towers at each location.

Since July of 2015, SWARA has deployed around 700 artificial reef structures at 16 evenly-distributed sites conveniently located near public beach accesses. The reef structure is a combination of concrete, steel, and Florida limestone rocks that are embedded in five-foot diameter concrete plates. The towers are anchored by ten-inch diameter fiberglass pilings that have been driven deep into the seabed. The maximum height is no more than 10 feet at the deepest water depth.

The structure is designed to provide valuable shelter and a sustainable food source for a wide variety of marine animals, birds, and other coastal creatures. SWARA is documenting the reefs' growth and also plans to launch a program with the reefs as a living educational resource.

There are currently four snorkel reefs that dot the coast from Miramar Beach to Inlet Beach. They are within one nautical mile of shore​ so can be reached by snorkelers or divers by swimming or by kayak, paddle board, or boat.

The Clear Water Makes the Experience a Must Do


The Snorkeling Reefs are more than just reefs but art

Cobia Reef in Inlet Beach, installed in the summer of 2017, is about 970 feet from the shore. It has 94 EcoSystems Reefs in the shape of Cobia, one of the region's most prized game fish that swim near the surface of the water. They grow to be more than 70 inches long and weigh as much as 170 pounds.

Sea Turtle Reef's site is 200 feet wide x 800 feet deep and is approximately 350 feet south of the shoreline and outside the boundaries of Grayton Beach State Park. It has 58 reefs in the shape of a sea turtle installed in the summer of 2015.

Seahorse Reef, off Topsail Hill State Park, is about 715 feet from the shore. It has 78 reefs in the shape of a seahorse and was installed in the summer of 2017.

Dolphin Reef in Miramar Beach is about 685 feet from the shore and has 79 reefs that were deployed in the summer of 2017.

Underwater Museum of Art – SWARA and the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County have created the nation’s first permanent underwater sculpture garden. Located just .7 miles from the shore of Grayton Beach State Park and at a depth of 60 feet, this wonderful underwater experience is home to seven sculptures created by different artists. As “living art,” they will become encrusted with marine growth that will evolve over time.

More about the reefs and species you will see on them.

There are quite a few artificial reefs along the Emerald Coast, Four of them are snorkeling reefs, the others are for scuba diving and fishing. The composition of the reefs draws feeder fish which draws larger fish, we have even spotted a couple of whale sharks, sea turtles as well as an occasional shark. A lot of people just paddle board out to them and snorkel from their boards. The reefs are spaced out far enough that there is not any over crowding.

Miramar Beach Artificial Reef View from the Air


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Kenneth Moody


Submit a Comment
  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    8 months ago from UK

    This sounds like a great idea. I have heard of artificial reefs for surfing before, but not for snorkelling.


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