Escambia County’s new snorkeling reef at Casino Beach is finally installed and already attracting wildlife.

Contractors for the county wrapped up installation Saturday morning on the reef, which is located roughly 600 to 700 feet off the shore, depending on the tide, east of the fishing pier. The project was paid for with a $59,500 grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission grant and is made up of 17 reef modulus.

Robert Turpin, the county’s Marine Resource Division manager, said he’s already had the chance to snorkel around the newly-installed reef and spotted a yellow jack fish.

“I saw the first fish on the reef within minutes of its installation,” Turpin said. 

County staff are developing signage and a web page for the new reef, which should be coming in the next couple weeks. For now, Turpin said he’s installed a temporary small white buoy on the reef so others can find it.


Fritz Sharar, owner of MBT Divers in Pensacola, said talk of the new reef is already abuzz among customers at his dive shop. He said he thinks it will draw everyday beach-goers, tourists and people learning to dive. 

“(Customers) are excited, very excited. They’re all looking forward to the opportunity to get out to Pensacola Beach and check it out,” Sharar said.

Some of the fish likely to appear are butterfly fish and juvenile flounder and snappers, among others. Sharar is expecting plenty of juvenile sea turtles, octopus and other reef fish.

“I think it’s an incredible asset,” Sharar said. “It’s going to have an abundance of marine life. They’re not going to see just some sand dollars and some broken shells, there will actually be marine life that the tourists can look at and observe.”

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Earlier this month, the county moved to name the reef Charles Fennell Gonzalez, IV, Casino Beach Reef after former Geographic Information Systems director, Charlie Gonzalez, who died unexpectedly in January following a 20-year career with the county. The snorkeling reef was one of the final projects he worked on.

“He was one of those guys that you can’t imagine that somebody could be that nice, that skilled, that dedicated all in one package, that friendly,” Trupin said, adding that they worked together during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. “I used to say that he had a great combination of stoked and laid back.”

The snorkeling reef is not part of the county’s ongoing effort to install Pensacola Bay Bridge rubble as artificial reefs in county waters. This rubble wasn’t used on the snorkeling reef because it’s too heavy for the sand in a near-shore environment. 


So far, the county has dropped 139 barge loads of concrete for artificial reefs with between 30 to 40 remaining, Turpin said, adding that the vast majority of the bridge will be recycled as artificial reefs.

In all, Escambia County has 528 fishing and diving reefs and four snorkeling reefs. The other snorkeling reefs are at Park East, Park West and Perdido Key

Turpin said it’s important for snorkelers and divers at all the reefs to use a dive flag. Those indicate the presence of divers to boating traffic.

“It’s for your safety. I can tell you as a diver in the water, it’s hard to see above the water and below the water at the same time so we need to be visible,” Turpin said. “And it’s hard to be seen, especially by boaters, so that’s why we need those dive flags so that we’re visible to the boats that are running around.”

Madison Arnold can be reached at marnold@pnj.com and 850-435-8522.