Hanna Koch is Monroe County’s new artificial reefs director. She starts work April 1 and will launch a Keyswide program to create a series of artificial reefs to provide marine habitat and dive and fishing opportunities. CONTRIBUTED

The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners welcomes Hanna Koch as the new Monroe County Artificial Reefs director. Koch comes to the county from The Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration at Mote Marine Laboratory in Summerland Key. She will start the position on April 1.

Koch is leaving her current position as a staff scientist and program manager for the coral reproduction research program to develop the new department that will oversee the creation of an artificial reef program. She holds a doctorate in natural sciences, a master’s in biology, and a bachelor’s in marine science.

“Her background in scuba diving, reef reproduction and restoration, grant writing, local stakeholder connections, and teaching appear to be the perfect match of what we are looking for in this new position,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi. “Her passion and understanding of our ecologically sensitive marine environment will benefit our residents and visitors who enjoy our waters now and in the future.”

Fifty-four people applied for the new position. Koch will have the key responsibilities to develop the framework for the future of the artificial reef program, establish goals and objectives, coordinate the needs of the community, handle public inquiries regarding the program, find sites, monitor grant agreements, and oversee the creation, permitting, maintenance, and monitoring of the sites and any staffing that may be needed, among many other things.

In August 2023, Monroe County was awarded $10 million from the state to start an artificial reef program in the Keys. Artificial reefs can help take pressure off of local natural reefs. “This is just the beginning, but we hope to set up a network of habitats from shallow to deep water that will support natural habitats and fish stocks,” said Gastesi.

The first project may include using 37 50-foot hollow power poles the county acquired from the Florida Keys Electric Co-op’s Sea Oats Beach project in Islamorada. Other projects suggested included using concrete fish domes and other ideas used in other counties across the state. Koch plans to work with other counties in Florida with successful programs.

“I look forward to continuing to  advocate for our marine environment, engaging with the community to hear their thoughts and ideas, and using a science-based approach for developing structures that will support our marine habitats and natural resources,” said Koch.

There are more than 4,000 clusters of artificial reefs in Florida, and 37 coastal counties in Florida already have an artificial reef program. In the Keys, 62 artificial reefs, including wrecks, were placed mainly between 1982 and 1989. The most recent artificial reef placed in Keys waters was the Vandenberg off Key West in 2009. Artificial reef sites are popular among divers and fishermen.