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New artificial reef planned for Pier 60

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CLEARWATER — Forty years ago, oceanographer Heyward Mathews organized a barge to drop thousands of pounds of concrete in the waters just west of Pier 60.

Over the decades, it became a thriving marine ecosystem for fishermen to reel in the snapper, grouper and flounder living there.

But during a recent reef cleanup, volunteer divers discovered most of the artificial reef had sunk deep into the sea floor — which solved the mystery of why so many anglers were coming off the pier empty handed lately.

Now the same oceanographer is working to build a new habitat off Pier 60, improving one of the only artificial reefs in Tampa Bay accessible without a boat.

"Some people come out here and fish for their food," said Mathews, a St. Petersburg College professor. "It's something that can last another 40 to 50 years."

There are 13 artificial reefs built through the Pinellas County program Mathews launched in the 1970s, now the largest system in the state.

They help restore fish habitats, boost populations for anglers and play a vital role in the local tourism industry, said program manager Charles Mangio.