On September 6th 2018, I had a chance to tour The Voice Bernadette Aka The Peoples Reef Project with Jim Oppenborn(SLC Coastal Resources Coordinator) and Mark Music (MMPS Environmental). The VB was a 1965 German cargo vessel that had been confiscated due to drug trafficking. The Customs & Border Patrol contacted Mr. Oppenborn to offer as an artificial reef. I had no idea the magnitude of this project and the journey that would lead me to an amazing emotional experience. During the tour I video taped and later edited a video as the VB was in it’s early stage of being carefully cleaned. It was a fantastic experience to be on the 180′ vessel. Jim and Mark were very informative and gracious. They also showed me the items they found on the VB that would be auctioned off to help raise money towards the deployment.
After the VB was carefully cleaned and rid of all toxic material and debris, it stayed anchored at the Summerlin Dock awaiting its last departure. The majestic vessel became a celebrity of sorts and a backdrop for many sunset photos.
When the deployment date was set, I knew that the permitting, cleaning and the strategic planning was ready and this was going to make history in St Lucie County and our waters. I was invited to go on a “VIP Party” boat that MMPS board member Kathy Green had arranged on the charter fishing boat, called “Lady Chris”. The day of the deployment July 23rd, 2019 I met up with the crew and other people that were taking the excursion with us. This momentous occasion became embedded in my mind as the day unfolded. As Kathy Green and I were waiting for the “ship to sink”, she whispered to me that on this date (6/23/19) one year ago she found out that she had ovarian cancer. It was an emotional moment. I mean we were watching a historical event play out and the timing was mystical to say the least. I felt tears in my eyes, but then began to focus on the moment in anticipation of the the vessel sinking. Then we saw it sink and the 150 plus boats and watercraft around us started cheering. I had my camera phone ready to get the shot, which by the way went viral! That’s another story though. I held up my beer and said, “Cheers, have a nice life. ” I knew that it wasn’t over for this vessel.
The Voici Bernadette was now an artificial reef. It would soon be home to over 110 species of fish, numerous invertebrates, recreational angler’s and a new place for divers to explore. After the last splash from the final sinking, a woman by the name Dawn Bostick Aitkenhead came up to me and Kathy announcing, ” My father’s ashes are spread”. Later, I would learn that her father, Curtis Bostik was now the name of this new artificial reef. The Coastal Conservation Association donated generously to this project which gave them naming rights. The story doesn’t end there because the party boat was filled with other interesting tales to tell. For instance, there was a couple there celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. Also, joining the party was a woman who was saying goodbye to her fiancé who had just died from West Nile disease. They had been following the progression of the Voici Bernadette for months and were excited about being a part of its deployment. Sadley, she watched it without him. But, she wasn’t alone. She had 30 people joining her in this venture. It was a celebration of life and love. The “trash” was recycled to become a treasure for our town and future generations. It is now located in approximately 100 feet of water 10 miles off our coast. The Voici Bernadette became the voice of hope which now brings life under the sea and touched more than just the ocean floor.
St Lucie County owns an area called Harbor Pointe Park that is filled with old concrete telephone poles, steel structures and modulars to be recycled as artificial reefs. The money used to clean and deploy these items comes from grants mostly from the FWC and the Artificial Reef Program. They in turn provide financial, technical and assistance to construct, monitor and access the reefs. Florida has one of the most active artificial reef programs. There are very strict guidelines to the making or recycling of artificial reefs. In the past, everything from decommissioned military tanks and trains to manmade sculptures have been used as artificial reefs in other parts of the US coastal waters. These donated items would otherwise be taken to a landfill.
For more information about artificial reefs and how you can get involved with the program click this link: