Georgia fans of country music superstar Kenny Chesney likely can sing many of his songs about oceans, islands and beaches. From his 2002 album "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems" continuing to the 2022 "Here and Now," Chesney includes his love of the ocean and the peace he finds on the water as frequent inspiration for hit songs.
But what fans and others may not know is that Chesney and Georgia conservation organizations, regional volunteers and the state and federal governments have teamed up on coastal projects along Georgia's 110-mile coastline. The aim: improving coastal vibrancy, supporting marine life, and providing more recreation opportunities for Georgia residents.
Chesney's No Shoes Reef Foundation recently partnered with the Coastal Resource Division (CRD) of Georgia's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to acquire and place 400 concrete reef balls at Ogeechee River Inshore Artificial Reef. Located just outside Fort McAlister State Park on the border of Chatham and Bryan counties, the reef will help to build more marine habitat in the area and improve fishing opportunities.
"We had several volunteers from the Coastal Conservation Association Georgia, the Reef Ball Foundation, and No Shoes Reefs all get their hands dirty helping us load these reef balls onto a boat, get them to the reef site, and place them on the riverbed,” explained Cameron Brinton, a marine biologist specializing in habitat enhancement and restoration for Georgia's CRD. “We were able to place all 400 reef balls—which weigh about 50 pounds each—in only two days, which is fantastic."
Georgia's DNR maintains close working relationships with conservation groups in the state and local volunteers in its coastal maintenance efforts. Coastal Conservation Association of Georgia, Savannah Sport Fishing Club, and Sapelo Saltwater Fishing Club have been among the longest and best supporters of the efforts. The volunteer and private-sector ties help to extend the reach of state and federal government coastal programs.
The existing partnership with the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) of Georgia created the new opportunity with Chesney's No Shoes Reefs Foundation. When Chesney's foundation let CCA know it was interested in funding reef work in Georgia, the group put No Shoes Reefs in touch with Georgia's DNR, and the planning began shortly thereafter.
And while the reef ball project at Ogeechee River Inshore Artificial Reef was completed in June, Chesney's foundation continues working with Georgia's DNR to identify, explore and raise funds for future reef projects in the state.
Chesney's involvement in reef restoration started in 2015. The singer's website provides the following account:
"With a partnership established in 2015, Kenny teamed with the Building Conservation Trust to create artificial reefs in places where degradation undermined healthy reefs, which provide living habitat for many kinds of sea life. Working at a grassroots level with the Coastal Conservation Association, 18 months after submerging their first two structures, Chesney and CCA President Pat Murray heard the fish finders and depth censors go crazy as they floated over the locations on the St. John River."
“The fish were back,” Kenny recalls with a smile. “The reefs were healthy, and the water was becoming what it was originally meant to be. I realized: small things can yield major results, especially within defined communities.”
With the completion of the reef ball project at Ogeechee River Inshore Artificial Reef, all are looking forward to the improvement of coastal vibrancy. The process takes time, as nature interacts with the man-made reef materials. And the progress at inshore reefs is not as fast or dramatic as offshore reefs. But as Brinton explains, the man-made reefs are proven to support the return of marine life, support improved spawning and help to minimize erosion.
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