Student-created artificial reef sculpture to help marine life in Lake Worth Inlet
Updated Nov. 16, 2020.
Local marine species have a new underwater habitat in the form of an artificial reef sculpture created by Palm Beach State College students.
Weighing 10 tons and measuring 13 feet long, 8 feet wide and 11 feet tall, the sculpture was picked up Nov. 13 from the Palm Beach Gardens campus and taken out to sea by barge on Nov. 16, where it was lowered to a depth of 40 feet about 1 mile southeast of the Lake Worth Inlet, 3,000 feet from the shore. Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management handled the deployment of the sculpture, which should also attract scuba divers and anglers. The GPS coordinates are: 26 45.31, -80 01.581.
An interdisciplinary collaboration, the sculpture reflects the talents and skills of more than 60 students, led by five faculty members: Jessica Miles, Ph.D., professor and chair of Environmental Science Technology, Anton Pastuszak, Welding Technology instructor, Nazare Feliciano, Ph.D., art and ceramics professor, Oleg Andric, professor and chair of Electrical Power Technology, and Eva Suarez, professor and chair of Engineering Technology.
The sculpture’s stainless steel form, fabricated by welding students, represents a DNA helix in the shape of the infinity symbol, and small ceramic sculptures of coral-like forms, created by art students, adorn the base. Engineering students produced CAD drawings to help determine the size and weight of the sculpture and account for wave action, so that even if a hurricane comes through, the sculpture won’t topple. Environmental science students assisted with the sculpture research and assembly and will also participate in ongoing studies to determine which species utilize the artificial reef over time. All materials were thoroughly researched and tested for durability and safety for marine life.
By taking the DNA helix and turning it into an infinity symbol, the sculpture’s creators hope to convey the message that it will be part of sustaining marine life for many generations to come.
“Artificial reefs attract coral, but also hundreds of different species of fish congregate around these reef sites,” Miles said. “Because of climate change, artificial reefs will be a refuge for corals and other marine creatures as they start to seek out tolerable water temperatures. We’re essentially facilitating species’ movements as they adjust to rising sea temperatures.”
This is the first sculpture project Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management has done with a Florida college.
“We are happy to be included in this collaborative project and to learn that so many students played a part in the sculpture’s journey to completion,” ” said Jena McNeal, the department’s senior environmental analyst and artificial reef coordinator.
Helping Save Coral Reefs
The sculpture’s journey began three years ago, when Miles decided to dedicate her one-semester sabbatical to helping save the dying coral reefs—an international problem that hasn’t spared South Florida.
The 2017 sabbatical became the ongoing Reef Hope Project that has produced innovative curriculum, technical skills trainings and field research studies in artificial reef structures and marine life.
The idea for the Reef Hope Project Artificial Reef Sculpture came to Miles when she discovered other underwater creative works that were benefiting marine environments around the world.
“I saw how beautiful the sculptures were as they transformed over time to be encrusted with living organisms, and I thought what an amazing contribution to the environment and to the local community if we could participate in something like this.”
Healthy reefs also protect the economy and especially help the tourism and fishing industries, which are so important to Florida. Reefs provide billions of dollars in coastal protection by breaking up the wave action from storms, which reduces inland flooding and saves money otherwise spent on beach renourishment.
“There’s a huge human tie to all of these efforts. Artificial reefs are just one component, one measure of helping to heal our environment that’s definitely under threat,” Miles said. “We want to show how PBSC is a leader in this field.”
After its completion in late 2019, the sculpture was displayed at PBSC’s Palm Beach Gardens campus. Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management covered the cost of transporting the donated sculpture from the campus and deploying it at sea. “They have overseen lots of other deployments of these types of offshore materials and sculptures in our area, so they’ve been an excellent partner,” Miles said.
“I feel so appreciative of the attention that’s been brought to the College through the Reef Hope Project,” Miles continued. “This has been getting the message out there, and having students involved in every single step has given them real–world career applications for their skills and an appreciation for how their actions can make the world a better place.”