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Frequently Asked Questions - Filter Feeder Habitats

Filter Feeder Habitats

The Habitats we are basing the Indian Waterways Pilot project on, are approximately 12 cubic feet and have 5 levels of flat plates covered in shells.  The center of the system is open from the top to bottom to permit better water circulation. Figures 1 through 3 show some of the habitats we are currently testing.


Figure 1: Full Size Habitat, to float at dock



Figure 2: Mini Habitat for preliminary testing



Figure 3: Mini Habitat covered after 4 mo


By using the flat plate design, the waste products of one species will stay in place longer and as other plants and animals in the food chain consume the waste product of oysters, clams, sea squirts, etc., the cycle of life eventually comes around again to the stone crab, lobster and other juvenile fisheries species that eat those creatures. 

There are other techniques that will help make these habitats grow faster and work better year round.  Some will address bottom sediment and oxygen level, but please refer to the presentation provided in this link to learn more about the proposed Indian Waterways Pilot Program. 

Near-shore Water Quality and Ecosystems:

Much of the deterioration of the canal and near shore water quality is self-induced.  So the goal of the habitat program is to reverse some of the negative impact we, as humans, have on these ecosystems by making them capable to sustain themselves.  In Figures 4 and 5, the natural shoreline and the near shore manmade shoreline are compared.


Figure 4: Natural shoreline mangrove root ecosystems



Figure 5: Typical manmade canal and basin shoreline


There are two issues, which engineered filter feeder habitats address.  The first is that our rock and cement lined canals do not support the natural filter feeder environment provided by mangrove root eco-systems on our natural shorelines.  

High nutrient loading from manmade activity into the low water turn-over in canals dug too deep, results in toxic sediment buildup, pathogens linked to coral disease, hypoxic (low oxygen) stratified lower layers of the water where little can live, and a perfect environment to grow algae.  Figure 6: helps to demonstrate the filtering effect of a habitat on green algae over a 40-minute period.


Figure 6: Mini Habitat Filtering Demonstration


Fisheries Improvements:

It is a secondary goal of the habitat program to estimate the positive effect on our fisheries as the systems scale throughout the Keys.  The program will document the species that are found within and work with scientist and our numerous government resources to predict the survival rates of each in reaching reproductive maturity and legal harvesting size.

Now that we have sewer, most may believe that we have solved the problems of nutrients from septic tanks getting into the water and all should be fine.  Well partly true!

Sewer is a great improvement.  It is costly, but necessary.  It is not an instant problem fix however.  For 20 years after sewer is installed, we will have leachate from those septic systems, seeping through the porous coral earth into the canals.  Lawns and plants are fertilized, leaf debris swept and blown into the canals, pet and animal waste, oil, fuel and other man made matter wash in the canals with rain and we have relatively little, or no, storm water systems in the Keys. 

Without a practical means to address storm water run-off with retention ponds and treatment facilities, we need to find another means to help reduce our human impact to keep our ecosystems healthy.  Storm water treatment could rival the cost of the sewer systems.  Habitats can provide a means to address several continuing issues at a much lower cost and user-friendly approach.

Engineered Habitats that serve to attract and benefit specific species of plant and animal life have been around for a long time.  There is no habitat store where you can go buy these, however there are some groups that do specialize in habitat design and building.  

One of the not-for-profit groups, the Ocean Restoration Initiative (ORI), is lead by Mike Calinski with 30 years of field experience in habitat design. The habitats is basing its pilot initiative on comes from this experience.  Mike is also a proud FKCC alumni, so this is truly a “Home Grown” solution that is adaptable to other coastal and estuary based water quality needs in Florida and beyond.

It is the goal of the project to manufacture the habitats in Monroe County, with the help of Students, Interns and some like-minded carpentry and contraction companies throughout the Keys.  We are actively seeking groups who could help with this manufacturing and assembly.  Our pilot project will build about 250 to 275 units to support the project and advance testing throughout Monroe County.

The habitats will be placed at home owner docks and float tethered to the dock as you boat is.  Homeowners will be asked to treat the habitat as a “garden in the water”, making sure it has sunlight and is not dosed with foreign substances, or constantly disturbed by boat propeller wash. 

Habitats will be placed about 1 per lot, but the exact number may change in a canal over time.  As canals become clean and water clears, the number of habitats may be reduced to achieve a stable steady state where the habitats filter the entire water volume in the canal every 4 to 7 days.  The pilot project will help to outline some of these “best practices” for scaling the system Keys wide.   Figure 7 shows several habitats strung together at Garrison Bight Marina in Key West.


Figure 7: Floating Habitats at Garrison Bight


At this time, the filter feeder habitat technology and pilot program is being evaluated by the Monroe County subcommittee charged with cleaning up our canals.  The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has appropriated $5M in funds to study the best ways to address cleaning these canals.  There is no one solution that addresses all the canal problems.  Filter feeder systems address the water quality issue by addressing the nutrient loading.  Other systems will address sea-grass and floating debris entering the canals, looking at reducing depth of some canals and systems that will enable improving the hypoxic lower layers of water and even reducing the sediment. expects the pilot project to begin sometime in mid-summer, assuming we win approval from the BOCC.  It is important to develop the best practices first before trying to distribute these systems Keys wide at this point.  There will be some systems made over time that we expect to be made available, but at this time we have yet to start large-scale production.

There is so much more to this program than just building and placing habitats in the water.  This pilot program is design to include agencies from FKNMS/NOAA to FDEP, FWC/FWRI, the BOCC and municipal governments, NGOs, schools, Chambers, TDC and as large an umbrella as we can make.  By including all, when it comes to scale the system, here and elsewhere in FL, the process becomes one of unified initiative, versus jumping hurdles in agency approval processes.

Over the last 3 years a long list of meber groups and beyond have worked together to help define this pilot program.  Here are a few that you can thank when you have a chance:

Reef Relief, Aqauranch, Ocean Restoration Initiative (ORI), Ecoworld Energy, Solarbeam International Inc., Dr Patrick Rice (FKCC), FKCC Environmental Club, Global Coral Alliance,, Global Coral Repository, Ocean Equities, Inc., Danger Charters, Dr. Tom Gorgeau (Harvard), Dr. Brian Lapoint (FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute), Atlantic Virtual and so many more!

What a great question!  Well the obvious is Donate, Join Us and support the discussion and approval of this pilot project with the BOCC. 


We expect to need funding outside of what the BOCC may provide to cover some costs with analysis and advanced programs to prepare for larger scale distribution throughout the Keys and to start looking at addressing estuaries outside of the Keys that directly affect our water quality.  Estuary water from the SW part of FL, travels around Key West and across FL Bay and reaches Key Largo in less than 2 months!


Manufacturing Support:


We also need physical support for the manufacturing of the units. is seeking companies and groups skilled in carpentry and to help physically build these units.  If we have 20 groups building 10 units each the workload is less, more people become aware of the project and our community become engaged!


Education Component:


Over time, we will be working with Keys Schools to included educational programs and data collection on the pilot program.  If you are a educator, we hope to reach out and help bring this exciting homegrown initiative into your classroom with help of our member groups like Reef Relief, Aquaranch and more.


Join Us:


Please visit our website and join us, or visit us on Facebook and join the discussion.  Since 2010, we have amassed active members from around the gulf coast who care deeply about the Gulf and the Keys. is leading the initiative to bring this one program to the Keys as a means to help reverse our human footprint, so that we may live and enjoy the beauty here for many generations to come.


Citizen Scientists:


We want all to be aware and participate. We hope to encourage a new class of citizen scientist to help improve the Keys to where it was 40 years ago, before the pressure of some many of us being here and extreme nutrient treatment of crops upstream from the Keys push our ecosystem to the brink of collapse in some cases. will help to promote and release new programs that enable the citizen scientists, who’s data collection through simple pictures and comments can help scientist to monitor changes that we cannot afford to monitor now.


Volunteers and Emergency Response:


Please look through our website and register.  We are part of the County EOC solution in being able to organize citizens to respond to threats to our ecosystems. We help train and organized volunteers at all levels.  Please sign up and become part of our community solution!


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