Anonymous donor provides funding to Siesta Key Association so it can expand upon Grand Canal Regeneration Project

Commitment needed from dock owners by May 22 to get 505/50 matches for ‘mini reefs’

 Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) has $35,000 to use in making 50/50 matches for homeowners interested in installing devices called mini reefs in the barrier island’s Grand Canal, SKA Secretary Jean Cannon has reported.

The goal is to secure the participation of enough homeowners before May 22 to be able to install 165 more mini reefs, she has pointed out in a March 2 letter to Siesta residents.

The Siesta Isles Association already has signed up for 50 mini reefs, she noted.

In November 2020, the nonprofit organization launched its Grand Canal Regeneration Project with the goal of cleaning up the quality of water in the 9-mile long canal, so juvenile fish would be drawn once again to the waterway.

Each mini reef, which has dimensions of 3 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet, can be installed under a dock. The marine-grade, polycarbonate devices draw algae, which, in turn, attracts crabs and other sea creatures known as “filter feeders.” With those creatures attached to the mini reefs, the devices can filter as much as 30,000 gallons of water per day, as Phil Chiocchio of Sarasota — who initially proposed the project — has explained to SKA members.

The devices can last for at least 50 years, according to information provided by the SKA.

During a December 2019 presentation to SKA members, with Chiocchio, Sandy Gilbert, chair and CEO of a nonprofit organization called Solutions To Avoid Red Tide (START), described the installation of mini reefs as “creating a hotel for sea life …”

When the SKA began the Grand Canal initiative, a mini reef cost about $300. The expense has grown to a range between $437 and nearly $500, according to the website of the manufacturer, Ocean Habitats of Miconopy. However, in her letter, Cannon noted that the SKA will be able to buy each device for $325. Thus, a 50% match of the anonymous grant would be $165.50, if a person pays by cash or check; that includes a $4 SKA administrative fee. The SKA would have to add an extra $4 for the processing of a credit card if a dock owner prefers to use a card for payment, the letter said.

The installation has been planned for June, Cannon told the SKA members on March 2.

Since the initiative began, Cannon wrote in the letter, “[D]olphins have returned to parts of the Grand Canal, shrimp and crabs have shown up in and around the mini reefs, and for fishermen, mid-sized tarpon has been seen swimming around some canal docks. In addition, almost all dock owners have reported an increase in the variety of small and larger fish returning to our waters.”

During a Feb. 22 presentation to the Sarasota County Commission, Chiocchio, the county resident who first touted the mini reefs to the SKA members, presented a video that showed how the mini reefs work. His comments during the Open to the Public period of the regular commission meeting that day referenced the fact that the SKA won a $9,000 county grant in October 2021 to install 30 of the mini reefs in the Grand Canal. The funds were awarded through the Neighborhood Initiative Grants Program.

Chiocchio’s video included footage of brand new mini reefs awaiting installation, as well as mini reefs that had been in the water for various amounts of time. He noted that sheepshead fish had taken up residence in one of the mini reefs, while mangrove snapper have been drawn to others.

As he has maintained since his first presentation to the SKA members, in the fall of 2019, Chiocchio told the commissioners that the mini reef program can convert the Grand Canal into an abundant fishery.

Altogether, Cannon pointed out in her letter, dock owners on Siesta Key have installed 272 mini reefs. Of those, she told SKA members during their March 2 meeting, 212 have gone into the Grand Canal.

Cannon, Chiocchio and other members of the project team have divided the canal into four sections for their undertaking. The area with the largest number of mini reefs is in the northeastern part of the waterway; the total is 115, as noted in a graphic Cannon showed SKA members on March 2. Dock owners in Siesta Isles already had 47 of the devices in place, the graphic said.

Funding the SKA has received through grants has supported the program, Cannon has explained.

The goal in using the anonymous contribution, she added during her March 2 comments, is to create “a whole line of mini reefs” from the northernmost part of Commonwealth Drive down to Shadow Lawn Drive in Siesta Isles.

Anyone interested in participating in the program may contact Cannon at or 941-313-0559.