Many local ocean lovers may not know the site of the Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach was the former site of New Smyrna Beach High School.
Also, part of the school still serves as an artificial reef for a multitude of marine life.
Concrete and structural debris from the high school demolition was removed in 2014 and set aside until it could be deployed offshore the following summer. Volusia County holds the permits for the reef sites and is responsible for reef construction.
The nearshore Flagler Avenue reef houses items from the school, such as clean concrete culverts, structures, jersey barriers and concrete utility poles and is about 2.5 miles south of Ponce de Leon Inlet and one mile offshore from Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach.
The school is now at 1015 10th St. in New Smyrna Beach. Having the former school repurposed to benefit marine life as well as fishermen and divers is a positive outcome. The fact the school’s mascot is the barracuda is even more appropriate as real barracudas are reaping the benefits of the reef.
“It’s wonderful to hear that ‘schools’ of fish are now thriving on the artificial reef, built with parts of the old New Smyrna Beach High School,” said Kelly Schulz, community information director for Volusia County Schools. “Our Barracudas are proud to have been part of this project. It’s a little bit of New Smyrna High legacy, which is so perfect for our community.”
Joe Nolin is Volusia County Coastal Projects Manager. He said the material for the reef was put on the Flagler Avenue near shore reef construction area. “In that area, we have 12 individual patch reef piles that we deployed. The piles are (each) four or five thousand square feet. The Flagler material went on one of those piles. “
He added, “The concrete material doesn’t degrade. It stays put and just becomes encrusted with all kinds of marine biofouling organisms. (i.e. sponges, barnacles, etc.) That material forms the basis of a pretty complex food web. Fishermen fish on those sites and catch a lot of flounder and black drum and other species. Divers can go to the reef sites as well.
“It creates marine habitat on the near shore continental shelf offshore Ponce De Leon Inlet where none naturally exists,” Mr. Nolin said. “It creates fishing opportunities for small boat anglers throughout Central Florida. It’s a massive recycling project. The clean concrete materials get a second life rather than take up space in a landfill. It supports the marine industry and the marine industry economy. “
Coordinates of the sites are published online. The reef containing the former high school is in about 45 feet of water. There were 400 tons of material used to create the reef with about 100 tons of the material from the school. Volusia County is home to 172 offshore reefs, covering 15 different sites.
Keith Sterner, who owns Sea Dogs Diving Center in New Smyrna Beach, really likes the reefs.
“I’ve been diving out here for 30 years. I’ve had so many awesome experiences simply because of this artificial reef program. I’ve had numerous whale shark encounters out here on these artificial wrecks,” Mr. Sterner said. “If these artificial sites weren’t there, neither would the fish be. If you build it, they will come. And people come to see the fish. Anything that you can imagine that’s in the ocean we have and that’s thanks to our artificial reef program.”
He thinks Volusia's artificial reef program is the best in the world.
Jerry Burbaugh, a Barracdua alumnus and local dive master, has been diving 30 years.
“I was born in New Smyrna. I think (the reef) is awesome. It’s pretty cool to see schools of fish on it now,” Mr. Burbaugh said. “The value of the reefs is that (they) bring money for the local economy as far as fishing and it creates a habitat for the fish when normally that would just be a patch of sand out there. Once they put it out there. it becomes an ecosystem for all sorts of animals to live on.”
He works part time for Sea Dogs Diving Center and owns Volusia Powder Coating.
Chad Truxall. executive director of the Marine Discovery Center, taught marine biology at the high school five years before it was demolished. He is a diver, too, and has seen the reef with parts of his former school.
Originally the property was a mangrove salt marsh habitat and ecosystem, Mr. Truxall said. “One of our initiatives when we got on the property with our partners was to return 5.5 acres of the 22 upland acres back into that mangrove marsh habitat.”
He also likes the artificial reef program. “I think it’s pretty awesome to be able to see the old high school and parts of it teeming with life when you get down there on a good day,” he said. “The challenge has been visibility.”
The Volusia County Artificial Reef Program has been in place since 1980, according to volusia.org. The program builds marine reef habitat on the continental shelf offshore Ponce de Leon Inlet by placing large concrete structures and steel ships at permitted locations on the seafloor.