By Nirvi Shah For Donald Silpe’s 70th birthday, he got the ultimate gift for a lifelong scuba diver: an artificial reef built and named in his honor. Silpe, who lives in Manalapan, said his family came up with the idea to make a donation to the county in exchange for a reef named in his honor. After months of paperwork, the family foundation’s $10,000 donation led to the creation of the Donnyboy Silpe Reef — just minutes from the edge of his beachfront home. “It’s just been so much fun,” said Silpe, who has been scuba diving all over the world, including the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and reefs near Thailand and in the Red Sea. “We’re all ecology-minded and care about the reefs.” Silpe retired to Manalapan about 20 years ago after working at a specialty meat company in Connecticut founded by his father. He and his family had been vacationing in Palm Beach County long before that. He started scuba diving more than 50 years ago off Long Island, where he grew up. All three of his children, Jennifer, Greg and Jay, are also avid divers and his wife, Linda, snorkels. His granddaughters, Ava and Mariel, are learning to swim. The county had received donations for artificial reefs in the past, including from the West Palm Beach Fishing Club. But an individual donating the amount needed for a reef was a first. So although Silpe’s birthday was this past March, it took several months for the county to build the reef. “We just didn’t have a policy,” said County Commissioner Jeff Koons, chairman of the county’s artificial reef enhancement program. Over the summer, Silpe watched from his home as nearly 830 tons of limestone boulders were dropped 67 feet deep into the ocean alongside another artificial reef project the county had already invested in. “We watched the barge with the actual reef go by,” Silpe said. Now, all county artificial reef documents will reflect the newly christened reef, which was officially named after Silpe in early December. “We dive all over that area,” Silpe said. He and Koons hope the donation encourages others to do the same. “It kind of opens the door,” Koons said. Although it took a few months, it could have been far longer. The county already had the site, and others, permitted for artificial reefs. Because of the number of agencies involved, permitting can take up to two years, said Carman Vare, a program supervisor in the county’s environmental enhancement and restoration division. So the county applies for multiple permits for a single area at once, Vare said. But once permits are obtained, a single approved area of a square half-mile of ocean floor may allow for 20 artificial reef projects. “We have a lot of fisherman, a lot of divers,” Vare said. “Everybody’s using the same amount of reef out there. It puts too much burden on the limited resources that are there.” The artificial reefs provide the raw materials for sea life to flourish. “It can be very productive by kick-starting a snapper fishery that otherwise wouldn’t be there. The reefs themselves, if you look at the complexity, there are nooks and crannies, hidey holes for small fish,” Vare said. “Soon the entire food chain will develop.” This time, it’s thanks to Donald Silpe's family.
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