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Kimberly’s Reef — Rusty’s in Cape to host fundraiser for FGCU reef project

By CJ HADDAD - | Oct 19, 2021

A fundraising event for an underwater laboratory and classroom for Florida Gulf Coast University students takes places Thursday at Rusty’s Raw Bar & Grill in Cape Coral.

In partnership with the Florida Shell Company, LLC, an initiative titled the “Restoration Reef Project” aims to raise funds for FGCU Water School’s Ves-ter Field Station so that the university can deploy “Kimber-ly’s Reef” as an innovative and local underwater reef laboratory and classroom.

Located 10 miles offshore and 30-feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, the FGCU Research Reef: Kim-berly’s Reef, brings a living laboratory to the coastal waters off Collier and Lee counties.

“These concrete box culverts will attract sea life, and we will see growth in a short period of time,” said Helen Noble, who handles community engagement and outreach for Vester Marine Field Station. “This will be one of a kind in stature. This infrastructure will not be moved by current action, and will remain steady, steadfast and be a great landmark to really become a permanent infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Officials at FGCU said this inter-disciplinary research and education platform will provide students and the scientific community with hands-on applications and solutions within their fields of study, ranging from environmental sciences and conservation to marine engineering, chemistry, biology, business; economics, engineering sciences, computer science and technology; the health sciences, art installation and education. The site will also be the exclusive training site for the American Academy of Underwater Sciences, FGCU scientific divers.

“It’s going to be for students of all ages — whether that’s FGCU students or from neighboring schools or universities that come down and work with us,” Noble said. “It’s creating an opportunity for the Vester Mariner and Water School to really get that experience under water.”

The reef is named in honor of Kimberly Anne Rieseberg, daughter of Eric Rieseberg, who died of cancer on her fourth birthday.

Kimberly’s Reef will be a research platform that provides data to study water quality, sustainability, ecosystem and human health — all of which impact coastal communities in the state of Florida. The project originated in 2019 but was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noble said this local data source can provide valuable resources and information to coastal communities throughout Florida and other parts of the United States. The oceanographic sensors and instrumentation housed on the FGCU buoy system will monitor the meteorological and oceanographic conditions of the reef area and relay data to the base station installed at the Vester Field Station. Through the buoy system, FGCU becomes an integral tracking center, part of the National Weather Service network for marine and weather forecasting, hurricane and severe storm warnings, and climate monitoring.

Kimberly’s Reef will be instrumental in protecting health and public safety, supporting healthy ecosystems and water quality, mitigating the effects of storms and man-made disasters, ensuring safe and efficient marine operations, and monitoring the Gulf for long-term changes and environmental trends.

Noble added that the reef will provide favorable habitats for fish, coral, sponges and other marine life, augmenting the resiliency of local coastal waters against impacts including red tide, hypoxia and eutrophication.

“Such resiliency is needed to provide faster recovery from red tide and other impacts, and the data being collected on-site in real time will allow us to study the impacts and recovery in greater detail, thereby providing a mechanism to devise solutions to reduce and mitigate such impacts.”

There are even 5 ½-foot gaps between each reef unit to allow for mature sea turtles to pass through safely.

With the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida’s backyard, this reef provides students with an advantageous look at marine life and how marine ecosystems operate.

“This is getting students job-ready. They will have not just classroom experience, but in the field,” Noble said, adding that many FGCU students stay in the area to help assist with pressing water quality issues the region has experienced in recent times.

“We have fantastic talent out there that has chosen to stay in the area because as FGCU becomes a stronger and stronger school in its areas of study, we are attracting businesses that want to move close to institutions that produce top students.

“We happen to be living on an amazing spec of the planet, and our community is growing so fast. There’s that delicate balance that we’ve been talking about for years, making sure that the water, and the land — the community and nature — all balance together. FGCU makes those studies available, and students are really able to get a hands-on education.”

The reef is also built to last.

“It’s an infrastructure that will be there for students for 50 years from now when our grandchildren’s children and their children are going to FGCU,” Noble said.

Gator Country 101.9’s Mel & Scott in the Morning will emcee the event at Rusty’s that will include a special presentation about the reef from Vester Field Station Director Dr. Mike Parsons.

There will be a silent auction that includes several items including a signed guitar by country music superstar Randy Houser, artwork by widely sought-after marine artist Steve Diossy, a spa package from the Laser Lounge Spa and a two-night stay with complimentary breakfast as the Ritz-Carlton in Naples.

Live Steel Drums by Mark Dupuy will accompany a “surf and turf” dinner sponsored by Sysco.

“We love FGCU. A lot of our staff and patrons are FGCU students,” said Rusty’s Operations Manager David Isner. “Especially with the water quality and the way it’s been the past few years, to see what type of studies and impact they can get out of this reef and to see how they can improve the water quality is going to be a huge benefit to the future.”

Rusty’s officials are also hoping to resume a project that was delayed due to the pandemic where they donate oyster shells to be put on the reef that better attracts marine life.

Doors open at 5 p.m. with the presentation taking place at 6:15. Tickets are $15 in advance ($25 with special menu and soft drink) and $20 at the door ($30 with special menu and soft drink).

Rusty’s Raw Bar & Grill is at 4613 S.E. 10th Place in Cape Coral.

For tickets, visit restorationreefproject.eventbrite.com. For more information on Kimberly’s Reef and/or to make a donation, visit www.restorationreefproject.com.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj