Rex Bone –  Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

The Andrew “Red” Harris Foundation is set to deploy an artificial reef off the coast of Jupiter as a memorial to Andrew Harris, who was killed while snorkeling last year.

The Andrew “Red” Harris Foundation is set to deploy an artificial reef off the coast of Jupiter as a memorial to Andrew Harris, who was killed while snorkeling last year.

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The reef, which is tentatively scheduled to be sunk Aug. 19, will be made of 40 “reef cells” modeled after Bahamian coral heads, and will cost about $100,000.

Palm Beach County will permit the reef to be placed at the site, about 3.5 miles off the Jupiter Inlet in 88-foot-deep water, and oversee its construction and long-term maintenance, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said. The reef will cover a 350-by-150-foot area.

“Nothing is ever going to replace Andrew, but it’s an effort to honor his memory in a way that will benefit the community as his life would have,” said Andrew’s father, Scott Harris, the foundation’s president. “It helped to have a focus, instead of just a complete emptiness. Something to focus on, to work on.”

The reef’s designer, Chris O’Hare, read about the tragedy in The Palm Beach Post and volunteered to help.

“I am a sculptor by trade and I challenged myself to create a marine habitat that was relatively easy to create, easy to deploy, and maximized the amount of bio-activity possible in a small footprint,” said O’Hare. “I wanted the reef module to do all that and still look like it was part of a natural geophysical landscape.”

So O’Hare took to his sculpture studio in Boynton Beach — and the reef cell concept was born.

Andrew Harris was an avid angler and diver who was struck and killed by a boat on June 8, 2014, while snorkeling near DuBois Park in Jupiter. The foundation was established to honor his memory as well as help insure “the vitality of our local ocean by building artificial reefs in the waters where he loved to dive and fish off northern Palm Beach County,” according to its mission statement.

The Harris reef will join around 70 other artificial reefs in Palm Beach County. In June, photographer Thomas McDonald deployed three concrete sculptures of hammerhead sharks beneath the Blue Heron Bridge in an effort to revitalize the shallow snorkeling area.

Each cell in the Harris reef begins with a 2,000-pound base used to attach it firmly to the ocean floor. The cells are composed of Portland and aluminate cement, weigh anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 pounds and are about 6 feet wide by 8 feet long. They vary in height from 5 to 8 feet high.

The project has received donations from a variety of sources, mainly family and friends. “We had a golf tournament, and there were a lot of donations. We were a new nonprofit, but it just kind of came together,” said Scott Harris.

Another fundraising project involved the sale of bronze display plaques for $5,000 that will be attached to certain modules on the artificial reef. The family is dedicating one as a memorial to Andrew Harris, while their neighbors, the Boyd family, and friend Julie Sothen each purchased one as well.

Bruce Boyd has known Scott Harris since 1986, and their sons used to take part in outdoor sports and water activities together. His family bought the plaque “to support our close friends, and a great cause that was a passion of Andrew’s,” Boyd said. Their plaque has the Boyd family names inscribed above the line, “Your Neighbors Forever.”

The foundation has also benefited from the donations of organizations, including the West Palm Beach Fishing Club’s Palm Beach Fishing Foundation and the Coastal Conservation Association’s Building Conservation Trust.

The CCA trust purchased five plaques that, coupled with the Palm Beach Fishing Foundation’s one, makes a total of nine.

“This is the kind of exciting project that we are targeting to enhance the local marine environment and expand opportunities for anglers and divers,” said Sean Stone, executive director of the CCA Building Conservation Trust, of the reasoning behind the group’s $25,000 donation. “We are very proud to be a part of this partnership.”

While the funds raised will be used to supply the modules, the county will pay for deployment of the reef cells. The cells are cast in separate parts and will be assembled and placed on trucks for transport to the Port of Palm Beach, O’Hare said.

At the port, the modules will be loaded onto a barge and carried out to sea. The barge will then be anchored and a crane will deploy eight clusters of five “Reef Cells” as a diver directs placement from the ocean floor.

Artificial reefs not only provide habitat for marine life. They also take pressure off natural reefs by giving anglers, divers and snorkelers another option for exploration.

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