About 15 miles off the coast of Orange Beach in nearly 90 feet of water sits an ambitious Eagle Scout project and an honorable family memorial.
After four years and a lot of fundraising, Garrett Ard of Orange Beach completed his Eagle Scout project on May 7th as he watched Walter Marine, The Reefmaker, sink a 50-foot steel-hulled shrimp boat called Southern Heritage.
“They had a huge crane that lifted it up and put it in the water,” Ard said during Tuesday’s Orange Beach City Council meeting. “And just in a couple of seconds, years of work was finally completed, which felt just amazing.”
Ard, a member of Boy Scout Troop 49 in Gulf Shores, was honored by the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting for his accomplishment and creating what will be the centerpiece of a Conservation Reef Complex in the Gulf. Mayor Tony Kennon presented Ard with a framed Certificate of Recognition for "outstanding achievement and Exceptional Leadership and Citizenship evidenced by the attainment of the Rank of Eagle Scout.”
The idea for the project started, Ard said, with making a memorial reef to recognize his late grandfather and well-known charter captain Gloyice Ard, and to honor other great men he’s had in his life.
His first idea was to sink a barge but eventually Walter Marine found a shrimp boat, which he purchased.
He raised $25,000 for the project with the city donating $10,000 in March 2017 and the remaining funds coming from the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation and various individuals and organizations around the community.
After properly preparing the boat for sinking with help from his fellow Troop 49 scouts, Ard said there was a long wait so he filled the time by creating an old-school reef platform with chicken coops on the back of his grandfather’s charter boat, Boll Weevil. The day before sinking the shrimp boat, Ard deployed the chicken coop platform reef off of the Boll Weevil.
So on a choppy day on the Gulf on Thursday, May 7, 2020, Ard was on his father’s boat as he watched Southern Heritage sink to the bottom of the Gulf. His father, charter Capt. Tom Ard told the council that the new reef had Red Snapper checking it out within an hour of reaching the bottom, as a scuba-diving friend dove down to see it.
Following TV news coverage of the sinking that started with Fox 10, the newly ranked Eagle Scout said he received a message on Facebook from the daughter of the man who built Southern Heritage.
“And so she kind of told us the whole story of having it built and how much it meant to him,” Ard said. “He unfortunately passed away last January, and so the project that initially started out as a memorial reef for two great men in my life, became another memorial reef for a family. That was another incredible aspect of this.”
The reef is part of the Alabama Artificial Reef Program and after the state adds a few more elements to it, the coordinates will be released to the public. The reef will be known as “BSA Troop 49,” anchored by the appropriately named Southern Heritage shrimp boat.
RELATED: "Eagle Scout Project Memorializes Orange Beach Charter Captain" by David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources