Influencers Install Artificial Reefs with Harmful Materials Creating Plastic Pollution in Florida Waterways

Artificial reef washed into a living shoreline project in the Lake Worth Lagoon by Reinaldo Diaz of Lake Worth Waterkeeper 

VOLUSIA COUNTY, FLORIDA - Many of Florida's waterways are already polluted with sewage spills, overfertilization, industrial chemicals, and stormwater runoff resulting in harmful algal blooms and health problems for wildlife and humans. The water quality is so impaired that organizations and environmentalists are frantically searching for solutions and hope. Sometimes those solutions can cause more harm than help.

A Florida company is incentivizing environmental influencers to install artificial reefs made with PVC, a toxic polymer that will chip and leech microplastic, and other concerning materials such as plastic-based rope. The company has been installing plastic reefs under docks throughout the sunshine state in hopes of creating cleaner water and helping wildlife.

Due to the construction of these reefs, they are a toxic time bomb waiting for the perfect storm. Made from PVC (a toxic polymer combination), nylon rope, and corrugated plastic for the shelves in between, 3 types of toxic plastics are introduced to the local environment. PVC contains dangerous chemicals, including phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to health. These toxic additives can leach out or evaporate into the air over time, posing unnecessary exposure to children. Using plastic creates the opposite reality of the reef’s intention since every piece of plastic, if not chipped into microplastics, will degrade into microplastics.

Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long, which can harm the ocean and aquatic life. According to an analysis by the World Wildlife Fund and carried out by the University of Newcastle in Australia, people consume about 5 grams of plastic every week, which is the equivalent of a credit card. A toxic problem is already in motion and needs to be decreased.

UV rays and natural degradation turn plastic into microplastics from contact with water. The Atlantic Ocean already contains 21 million tons of microplastics, and concentrations of these plastics are increasing in waterways surrounding Florida. Due to the rough texture of the microplastics, they will latch onto pesticides, herbicides, and glyphosates, which is currently a concern with sunshine state residents, fishermen, and wildlife. These chemicals and the toxic plastic itself will then be eaten by small organisms, entering the food chain and ultimately ending in the human bloodstream.

In 2018 the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary that spans the Space Coast of Florida was slated as having some of the highest recorded numbers of microplastics in the waterways in the world. The 156-mile-long region serves as a filter between the mainland of Florida and the Atlantic Ocean, with three rivers and two barrier islands in between. The artificial plastic reefs are making their way to Florida's east coast after 2022 storms ravaged the shore; social media influencers are selling a solution that doesn't contain sustainable materials, and residents are concerned.

Individuals pay anywhere from $260 to $740 to install each reef underneath their docks. Each sale generates earnings, and according to the Federal Trade Commission, social media influencers must disclose material connections or business relationships. Most of the time, there has been no disclosure while endorsing these reefs on public platforms. Microplastics carry pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides, keeping deadly and dangerous toxins in the localized environment. The ability to accumulate these pollutants affects seafood and human health. Due to biomagnification, microplastics often turn into toxic endocrine disruptors that lead to chronic illnesses in the communities where they are based. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable to these toxins.

Artificial reef washed into a living shoreline project in the Lake Worth Lagoon by Reinaldo Diaz of Lake Worth Waterkeeper

This wouldn't be the first time a solution caused another set of problems; artificial reefs were constructed using over two million tires off the coast of Florida in the 1970s. It seemed like a bright idea to help save marine life, but it resulted in a cleanup disaster. People were convinced it was a good concept because it would "provide a haven for fish and other aquatic species" while putting scrapped tires to good use. Sinking man-made materials with cheap rubber, plastic, PVC, and styrofoam to make reefs could cost taxpayers in the long run, as over $2m was authorized by the Florida legislature to retrieve nearly 62,000 tires from the waterways in this event.

Artificial reef washed into a living shoreline project in the Lake Worth Lagoon by Reinaldo Diaz of Lake Worth Waterkeeper

Ocean Habitat is one of the known organizations selling reefs as a solution to clean water. The president has been invited to open discussions concerning the cheap materials used in reefs by scientists but has declined numerous invites. The Director and spokesperson for the organization, Garrett Stuart, who claims to be a marine scientist, agricultural scientist, algae scientist, and wildlife biologist, states that the reefs are "University proven to filter over 30,000 gallons of water every single day. When asked why the artificial reefs are made of plastic, Stuart says that his professional opinion as a marine scientist is that they don't leech any type of microplastics for a few hundred years and that the reefs are pulled out of the water long before that. 

One Exchange with Stuart on the Social Media TikTok Platform

Conservationist and filmmaker Erik E. Crown has worked internationally with small villages constructing reefs from sustainable materials. Certified in plastic pollution and marine litter from the U.N., Crown has worked worldwide with small villages to create sustainable artificial reefs. Crown brought forward questions concerning the materials used on Ocean Habitats reefs and how long they stayed in the water and received inconsistent answers. One reef salesman explained that the reefs would be replaced in 500 years, and another explained that the reefs would be switched once the docks were removed. They also state that the reefs are “University-proven,” although no sources are provided to substantiate that statement. Other responses given to those who ask questions are to Google it or that their consulting fee is $500/hour. Crown says, "The answers are never consistent, but the avoidance of answers is prevalent."
"There are already too many new plastic reefs in the water, and people are not asking the critical questions - what happens when we add more plastic to a marine environment that’s already suffering?" Said Crown.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that location-specific evaluations are critical for artificial reef effectiveness. Other materials used worldwide to construct artificial reefs include rocks, cinder blocks, wood, limestone, and concrete. Plastic does not need to be involved. When asked, “Why plastic?” representatives have stated that it’s cheap and easy to install.

Florida is known for its hot weather, and the UV light from the sun slowly breaks down plastics. The science behind using plastic shows that these reefs are dangerous to water quality. These projects could be beneficial with proper materials and scientific research.

Currently, a study is being done on BioRock in Volusia County, which acts as a coral reef with an electrical advantage and uses materials that are structurally self-healing. It is a water quality project to help restore seagrass, oysters, clams, and marine life. Renowned scientists and experts are at the forefront of working to save the Indian River Lagoon.

Water quality projects such as installing mini artificial reefs, dredging, clams, and planting seagrass will stop the source of pollution. However, mitigating approaches help stabilize waterways as much as possible and help avoid a complete collapse. Florida citizens can help end the cycle of pollution by signing the Right to Clean Water petition to get it on the 2024 state ballot. This constitutional amendment will strengthen the law to better protect sensitive waterways from sources of pollution.

Additional Reading & References:
Erik E. Crown is a cancer patient passionate about environmental protection and safeguarding health. He has worked worldwide removing plastics out of oceans, knowing microplastics lead to chronicle illness and cancer, and is heavily involved in trying to prevent future illness. Contact him at and at 310-745-6588

Support independent investigative journalism by sharing our Advocates Voice articles via social media. 

Fight for Zero

Our team brings passion and drive to take on environmental health challenges. Our mission is to inform, educate, share resources, and inspire action to protect natural resources.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form