Larry Beggs, Owner of Reef Innovations, Inc., and a fifth generation Central Floridian, first stumbled upon the world of scuba diving in 1987. At the time, Beggs had recently graduated from Colonial High School in Orlando and was working as a Ferrier. With a family history of farming and a background in FFA and 4H, for Beggs, going underwater was a chance to experience a whole new world.
“I loved it,” he said. “So much that by 1992 I became an instructor and joined a dive club. The club I belonged to was an NAUI chapter and we decided to do a reef project off Cape Canaveral. Some friends volunteered me to be the Artificial Reef Committee Chairman, which meant I had to find things for our volunteer group to do. After about six months, I was looking through a magazine and saw an article about a reef ball prototype from a group, then called the Reef Ball Development Group, out of The University of Georgia. I really liked the idea and, after meeting with them in person, I ended up joining as a volunteer.”
After a few years, Beggs went from being a volunteer to a contractor after establishing Reef Innovations in 1995. He also became the exclusive contractor developing reef balls for the Reef Ball Development Group, now called the Reef Ball Foundation. The Foundation’s goal was, and still is, to get as many reef balls in the water as possible. Over time, the Foundation grew and so did Beggs’ business.
As a world-wide mobile contractor, Reef Innovations designs and produces reef units for mitigation, marine habitat, oyster and mangrove restoration and erosion control. The units act as “seeds” for reefs. Reef Innovations also assists many Non-Governmental Organizations with marine environmental cleanup, restoration projects and invasive species removal.
“We provide the molds, equipment and training to countries around the world,” Beggs said. “We’re currently in 70 countries with nearly a half a million reef balls deployed worldwide. We do everything from mangroves to oyster reefs, breakwaters, shoreline protection, bay reefs and spot habitats on structures. Our reef balls come in 11 different sizes and, out of those; you can put together what we call a ‘layer cake’. We also have an eco-wrap product for dock and jetty structures.”
Beggs continued, “The reef balls are designed out of marine grade PH-adjusted concrete. We tried to make them as natural as possible. We start with high strength ready mix concreate and add additives and strengthening fibers to make them durable. A sugar coating allows the concrete to be exposed, which allows for nooks and crannies for sea life to use. The inside is hollow and the holes are vortexed to allow for noises that attract fish. The holes also improve water flow, thus reducing the lifting forces in shallow water. We’ve even added coral adapter plugs to allow for coral transplants.”
Over the years, Beggs has formed relationships and completed projects for Tampa Bay Watch, The Nature Conservancy, The Audubon Society, The Coastal Conservation Association, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Sarasota County and dozens of countries throughout the world including Belize, Zanzibar, Jamaica and The Bahamas. Despite production challenges and having to deal with a myriad of permitting issues and regulatory agencies, Beggs and the Foundation are committed to the cause.
“Our goal has always been to put balls in the water and not money in the bank,” Beggs said. “I volunteered for years, while still working my day job, before I was able to make a living doing this. For us, it’s about doing what’s right for our planet and future generations.”
Another strategic partnership that allows Reef Innovations to accomplish their objectives while honoring deceased loved ones is Eternal Reefs – a non-profit that memorializes the passing of friends and family through permanent underwater living legacies. “They make life out of death,” Beggs said. “Using the cremated remains, along with environmentally-safe cast concreate, a unique underwater memorial is created.”
For Beggs, the most enjoyable part of his job is being on the water. He still loves to dive and thoroughly enjoys teaching our youth about the ocean. He’s motivated by the impact Reef Innovations and The Reef Ball Foundation are having on our marine environment. Looking ahead, Beggs, and his colleagues, are focused on a trend that threatens our way of life – sea level rise. With shrinking natural habitat along shorelines, seawalls and docks, where there used to be mangroves, we’re removing nature’s ability to do its job. One of the solutions, according to Beggs, is more Reef Balls. A long term goal is to work with more cities to deploy more Reef Balls to effectively mitigate the impacts of seal level rise, improve water quality and attract more marine life.
What advice does Beggs have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “You just have to get in there and do it,” he said. “I was scared and there are still new things I’m working on that scare me, but you’ll never know until you try. Let your heart guide you, not your wallet. The brain needs to be there, but the heart is the best guide. Also, enlist other’s help and don’t listen to naysayers. If you’re happy, keep going. There were years where I hardly made anything, but I stuck with it and now it’s paying off.”