One of the coolest interplays between a marine ecosystem and a surfing wave occurs at Sebastian Inlet.

A peculiar sessile invertebrate, commonly known as Worm Reef, periodically builds colonies along the base of the north jetty. By collecting suspended nutrients and sediment, the Phragmatapoma lapidosa build colonies in the intertidal zone. Plus, they like it rough. Wave breaking action helps activate more sediment making more material available to the Worm Reef to build their homes.

Back in the day, the north jetty at Sebastian Inlet was made up of a series of pilings skirted by a rock base. The Sabellariid would use this combination of pilings and rock to build colonies. Their colonies would then effectively “fill the gaps” between the pilings. Worm reef between the pilings created a unique living wall. This living wall helped to reflect wave energy from the base of the jetty back towards the surfing zone. When a reflected wave would meet another incoming wave, voilá, First Peak was born. Yes. It is true. Not only was First Peak a man-made wave due to the jetty, but First Peak was also biomechanical engineered and enhanced thanks to the worm reef.

Due to deterioration, a major north jetty rehabilitation took place from 2001-2003. A major part of this rehab was to place another row of pilings in front of the existing pilings. Today, the gaps between each piling on the front row are too big for the worm reef to connect their colonies from piling to piling. They can no longer build the reflecting wall that made First Peak so good. Take a close look at the header picture on this web page. Do you see the worm reef colonies? Do you see the gaps between the pilings? Try as they might, these little critters are no longer able to contribute their tubes to make surfing tubes.

 

At the First Peak Project, we’ve been watching the worm reef over the past decade.

In this time, they have not been able to close the gaps between the pilings. This first picture below shows the worm reef colonies in March of 2015. Notice the front row of jetty pilings with the worm reef colonies around their base. In the background do you see the second row of pilings and the rock base?

The next picture, taken three months later in June of 2015, shows that most of the worm reef packed up and left town. Without the worm reef, there is no chance that the gaps will close and create the reflecting wall we need to restore First Peak. At the First Peak Project, we’re on a mission to better understand the growth cycles of the worm reef. We want to figure out a way to help these sessile suspension feeders close these gaps.

Worm Reef along the north jetty in March 2015
Worm reef along the north jetty in March 2015. Photo by Bret Webster

 

Worm reef along the north jetty in July 2015.
Worm reef along the north jetty in July 2015. Photo by Bret Webster

 

Just a touch of worm reef.

If the Sabellariid only had a little help from their human friends, there is no doubt that we could make First Peak great again. All we would need to do is give the worm reef a little more substrate between the pilings to grow on. This little living wall along the base of the north jetty would return just enough reflection to get First Peak breaking again. It’s a very subtle solution if you think about it. Only if the worm reef could fill the gaps, First Peak could become the world’s first, purposely man-made, purposely bio-mechanically enhanced, living surfing wave. Our friends the worms have been trying to show us this for a long time. η

 

 


Help us grow a conversation

If you enjoyed Surfing’s New Superstar and you want to help us grow a surfing wave, please join the conversation below. Please remember that the Sabellariid are delicate and when we talk about them we need to be gentle with our words and respect our comment policy.

  • Jeremy Weinberg

    This is the first I’ve heard about the worm reef. Now with the new row which sticks a few feet out which needs to be closed with the worm reef, will it alter the wave at all?

    • Hi Jeremy – Yeah the worm reef is impressive, especially in real life. It’s been talk of local surfing lure and legend for a long time. A lot of the locals at the Inlet are fisherman too. When they used to go down to the inlet, back in the day, and the worm reef was present, they knew that next time there was a swell…well, they new the wedge would be working and it was going to be gooooood.

      And to answer your question, yes. The outer row of pilings killed the worm reef’s ability to form a wall and cause wave reflection.

      • Jeremy Weinberg

        That new outer row of pilings sounds to wide for the worm reef to grow a continuous wall. Is is possible? Could they add pilings between the current one’s?

        • Possible? Yes. But why? Why go a rent a huge crane, remove the deck, and drive more piles? That would cost millions of dollars. The existing pilings make the jetty extremely robust and it has survived nearly direct hits from huge hurricanes. There are many other very inexpensive ways to fill the gaps between the pilings.

          • Lou Maresca

            What would it take to allow a group of local volunteers to fill those gaps with rocks, sand bags, clean fill?

          • There’s much better technology out there today that enables solutions that are low-impact, low-cost, and more eco-friendly than rock placement. We envision borrowing technology from the bridge restoration industry. Google the term “concrete pile restoration” and think about solutions along those lines.

          • Ray Merchant Jr.

            Wonder if they could put some sort ( type ) of screen between each column . Water could flow through but still having a small gap for them to build.

          • Exactly! The solution could be designed to improve biological recruitment. The other thing to consider is that the surface does not have to be 100% reflective. Too much reflection could over-wedge the wave. A screen, for example, could reflect some wave energy and let the rest flow through.

            There are lot’s of technological solutions. What we need more than anything is community support!

  • Brian Stokes

    I would like to hear some of the ways these gaps could be filled.

    • We’re focused on restoring the wave reflection, and with this in mind, the most important thing to understand is that there are a lot of possible solutions! The unique construction of the north jetty makes it mostly hollow, meaning there is incredible construction access unlike any other jetty in the world. This allows us to install a removable pilot project before committing to any permanent installation. In the industry this is referred to as “contingency,” and historically speaking, contingency doesn’t exist for coastal engineering projects without tremendous costs. Also, because the jetty is extremely robust, little to no structural work needs to be done, meaning a pilot project could be very inexpensive.

      The north jetty at Sebastian Inlet truly is unlike any jetty in the world.