Construction on a four-acre island reef near Grand Isle will begin in early June, the Coastal Conservation Association announced yesterday (May 23). The Independence Island Reef project is expected to cost $500,000.

The artificial reef will be built of 8,000 tons of limestone barged from Kentucky during the past 30 days, and work completion should take about two weeks.

The reef will be built where the historic Grand Isle Independence Island was once located. Years of erosion and degradation caused the once-emergent island to disappear, but organizers are confident the artificial reef will once again attract a lot of attention from anglers.

"The reefs we have built over the years have proven to be great habitat for all sorts of marine species, including speckled trout, redfish, drum and flounder," said CCA Artificial Reef Coordinator John Walther. "This new reef at Independence Island will be the largest we've ever constructed, and it is sure to become a popular spot for Grand Isle anglers."

The center of the reef will be located at 29° 18' 29.40", 89° 56' 00.24" and will be marked by several mooring buoys.

Anglers will have the ability to tie their boats to the buoys without dropping anchor, which will help preserve the reef structure against damage from traditional boat anchors.

The project is a partnership between CCA Louisiana and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries with funding provided through the LDWF Artificial Reef Development Fund and the CCA Building Conservation Habitat Program. Money for the project also was provided by Shell Oil Co.

Additional funding was provided by the Paul Candies family.

"We are so pleased that this project was the first to be funded through CCA's Building Conservation Habitat Program," CCA Louisiana State President Ed Francis said. "Our deepest gratitude goes to all who made it possible for us to turn this concept into reality, especially Shell and the Paul Candies family. Their generosity and commitment to Louisiana's coast is incredible."

Funding from the Artificial Reef Development Fund was dedicated to the project in December during a ceremony at the State Capital. This dedicated fund has been targeted by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has said he wants to take $27 million out of the fund (leaving $5 million) to help balance the state budget.

During the December event, however, Gov. Bobby Jindal and officials from LDWF noted that Louisiana's coastal environment has faced many challenges, some man-made and some natural, and that projects like Independence Island Reef are critical to the recovery of our coast.

"The recreational fishing industry has sustained a number of challenges over the last six years – hurricanes, the Gulf oil spill and the current flood waters from the Mississippi River have and will continue to impact our inshore reefs along Louisiana's coast," LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina said. "The building of inshore reef structures is an essential component in restoring our recreational fisheries."

Independence Island Reef is the first in a series of inshore reefs that could be funded through the Artificial Reef Development Fund over the next few years.

LDWF and CCA Louisiana have been working for several months on plans for a number of new reefs and reef refurbishment projects, including sites in Lake Pontchartrain, Plaquemines Parish, Barataria Bay, Terrebonne Parish, Vermilion Bay and Calcasieu Lake.

The fund may also be used to create a reef logistics program whereby alternative reef materials such as concrete from old bridges and roads, discard material from concrete plants, oyster shells and the like would be identified, collected, stored and deployed as artificial reefs. This logistics program is currently in the development stages.

CCA Louisiana and LDWF also partnered recently on the I-10 Twin Span reefs in Lake Pontchartrain, which are the first in Louisiana to be built using debris concrete.