Friday, March 27, 2009

The wreck that made £30 million

This Is Plymouth
March 26, 2009

BUSINESS leaders believe Europe's first artificial diving reef off Whitsand Bay has generated up to £30million in its first five years.

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the sinking of the former HMS Scylla, Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said the wreck had created an "absolutely massive boost" to Plymouth's economy.

He also revealed that numerous business leaders in the South West region doubted the National Marine Aquarium-led project, believing it would fail.

But aquarium bosses say their figures show about 42,000 people have visited the wreck on 7,000 dive boats since its spectacular sinking on March 27, 2004.
"There were plenty of doubting Thomases at the time," Mr Jones said.

"A lot of people were supportive of the idea, but there was a great deal of doubt as to whether it would be a success.

"I'm delighted to say they have had to eat their words."

Mr Jones added: "In the last five years Scylla has contributed somewhere from £25million to £30million to the local economy, and will continue to do so.

"Scylla was one of the most bold, potentially risky, high-profile projects that we have seen in Plymouth for many years.

"Fortune favours the brave and it has been brilliant, not just for the city psychologically, but also for the fishermen, equipment and training providers and tourism."

Tourism and aquarium bosses have also hailed the success of the venture

Marine scientists believe the scuttled former Royal Navy frigate is now home to about 260 sea species.

"Scylla has surpassed our expectations both in terms of visitors and colonisation," said Deborah Snelling, a scientific officer at the National Marine Aquarium.
"The interest from the diving community and other visitors has been maintained throughout the whole five years.

"From a colonisation point of view Scylla has now turned into a wreck 'community'."
While Scylla has attracted many of the typical sea creatures associated with a shipwreck, such as conger eels, whiting, mussels and barnacles, queen scallops, cuttlefish and scorpion fish, Mrs Snelling said scientists had been "very interested" in some of the other visitors.

"We have had a nationally rare sea slug and Scylla has also attracted pink sea fans, which colonised in August 2007," Mrs Snelling added.

"They are very rare and protected."

Dr Keith Hiscock, of the Marine Biological Association, said: "Scylla has been a great attraction for divers, scientists and numerous species, and has been very worthwhile."

The National Marine Aquarium has been monitoring and logging the wreck for the last five years and will continue to do so for a further five.

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of South West Tourism, said: "There is no doubt that Scylla has been a success – and she continues to be.

"She has a unique selling proposition in that Scylla is Britain – and Europe's – only artificial diving reef.

"When divers visit they not only dive on Scylla, they visit other sites and stay and spend locally.

"It has a beneficial effect on the local economy."

HMS SCYLLA: factfile
The Leander Class frigate was the last warship ever to be built in Devonport and was the last of the Royal Navy's steam-powered frigates.

She was launched in 1968 and decommissioned in 1993, after which she was moored at Portsmouth and left to rust.

The Ministry of Defence put her on the market in 2000, attracting interest from groups who wished to preserve her as a museum or monument in Plymouth. A consortium aiming to turn the Scylla into Britain's first artificial dive reef at Whitsand Bay became the frontrunner to buy the vessel when it gained the backing of the National Marine Aquarium, which eventually took over the bid and bought the ship.

The project to turn the warship into a dive reef included a substantial clean-up to prevent pollution and cost in the region of £250,000.

HMS Scylla was scuttled a mile off the Cornish coast in Whitsand Bay on March 27, 2004, with a series of controlled detonations watched by thousands on the cliff tops. She became Europe's first artificial diving reef.

Explosives experts anchored her in position and used 46 different timed charges to sink her in less than three minutes.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

2008 year for artificial reefs


The Daily Times
By Laura D'Alessandro
March 30, 2008

Navy ship could join subway cars on materials list

OCEAN CITY -- According to members of the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative, 2008 may be the resort's year for huge reef developments.

Marty Gary, a member of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service, said more than $1 million was invested into artificial reefs in the Chesapeake Bay last year and two developments are currently on the horizon for Maryland's Atlantic coastline.

"This could be a very exciting year for Ocean City," he said. "I think 2008 is the year of the coast between the subway cars and the Radford."

The Ocean City Reef Foundation is currently raising funds to sink New York City subway cars off the coast.

"We have got about two barge loads or close to that," said Greg Hall, the group's president. "We've raised $40,000 and the people have been wonderful about donations."

But as far as the Radford, a 600-foot Navy destroyer ship goes, Hall and Gary can only hope for the funds to be raised in time.

Hall said the Ocean City Reef Foundation is hopeful the state can acquire the Radford but they are busy with their subway car endeavor. Still, Gary is hopeful.

"I think the chances of getting the Radford are excellent," he said.

The project is being bid as a multi-state effort, combining funding from Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey to sink the ship in the Delaware Bay in an area designated "Deljerseyland."

The location is 30 nautical miles from the Ocean City inlet, 28 from the Indian River inlet and 32 from Cape May, N.J.

The spot chosen for the Radford is adjacent to a wreck called the U.S.S. Moonstone. Gary said the Moonstone is much smaller and the Radford will make the area even better for fishing and diving.

"If you take a vessel of this size and put it down on the ocean floor you will immediately get colonial organisms like mussel and anemones on there," Gary said. "And with that it becomes attractive to various fish species and they'll literally set up camp there."

He said fish such as black sea bass and flounder usually frequent the reefs, but one the size of the Radford has the potential to attract different species of tuna, amber jack and other large fish.

Though Hall thinks the cost is high, Gary said it is low compared to the recent investment in the Chesapeake. The total cost has been estimated at $600,000, split between three states.

"It could get higher," Gary said. "And there is a definite need from donations."

He hopes the state will receive large corporate donations to fund the project, but even individual donations can be made by visiting


Sunday, March 09, 2008

The lure of shipwrecks


Miami Herald
By Susan Cocking
March 09, 2008

scientists found a rich reef fish community thriving near three sunken freighters in 250-300 feet of water.

Anglers wouldn't have many bottom-fishing opportunities in the deep ocean waters off Broward County if there were no shipwrecks.

A three-year study by scientists at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center revealed a rich reef fish community thriving around three freighters sunk in 250 to 300 feet of water -- compared with an almost barren natural rubble bottom nearby.

Researchers David Bryan and Kirk Kilfoyle used a miniature, camera-toting remote-control submarine, or ROV, operated by Steve Van Meter to count fish around the wrecks of the Bill Boyd, Papa's Reef and Caicos Express and on the adjacent ocean floor.

They found 615 fish of 42 species on the natural bottom, but nearly 51,400 fish of 65 species on the vessel reefs.

''We were the first to look at these wrecks with an ROV,'' Bryan said. ``We got to see things not many people have gotten to see. It was surprising we didn't find [nearly] anything on the natural bottom.''

Operating the VideoRay submersible with a joystick from the surface, the scientists found the wrecks were dominated by thousands of tiny, plankton-eating basses, which in turn provided forage for larger fish such as Almaco and amberjack, blackfin and gray snapper, and scamp grouper. The researchers also spotted some large Warsaw grouper and hogfish.

''We all wished we had a spear gun,'' joked Bryan.

Bryan and Kilfoyle concluded the deep shipwrecks do not appear to be attracting fish away from nearby natural habitat. Instead, they said, the fish congregating around the vessels are more similar to those found on the deep-water coral reefs of the Oculina Banks off Fort Pierce. Those reefs have high relief and are much more complex than the natural bottom off Broward County.

Said Nova marine biology professor Richard Spieler, who supervised the project: ``There's a strong possibility that the use of artificial habitat in deep water in places like Broward enhances the fishery.''

While the ships seem to increase reef fish productivity, the scientists said, they may also attract larger groupers that are typically rare in Broward County, making them more susceptible to hook-and-line and spearfishing.

Said Spieler: ``Ships can serve a purpose. They would serve a great purpose if you could restrict fishing on them.''

The $100,000 study was funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Guy Harvey Research Institute, and NOAA Fisheries.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Funding for artificial reef is on rocky ground


The Mayo News
By Áine Ryan
February 12, 2008

IN a bizarre stroke of bureaucratic bungling, the Government has failed to task any agency to deal with the marine leisure industry. This has left the possible funding of an innovative Mayo marine tourism project, an artificial reef in Killala Bay, in limbo.

In another twist, the promoters, members of Granuaile Sub Aqua Club, have also learned that LEADER funding for a feasibility study is not now available.

They now urgently need the financial support of Mayo and Sligo County Councils to drive the project, which could increase tourism revenue in the north Mayo area by €10 million annually.

The Killala Artificial Reef Project will involve the sinking of a small 4,000 ton ex-war ship in the bay. Similar detoxified ships have been sunk at various points around Canada, Mexico, the US, New Zealand and the UK. They have subsequently contributed significantly to tourism. It is projected that within two years the ship would be colonised by fish and could be marketed as an oasis for divers, anglers and school tours. The projected cost of the plan is €3 million.

However, according to Mr Brian Quinn of Fáilte Ireland, this Government has failed to identify a dedicated marine leisure agency, under the remit of any of its departments.

“There doesn’t seem to be any sponsoring department for marine leisure tourism, even though it is a part of the NDP [National Development Plan, 2007-2013] which, for example, has highlighted the development of marinas along the west coast,” said Mr Quinn, Fáilte Ireland West’s Product and Market Development Manager.

“We welcome this project but funding for it is outside our remit. With a plan to designate Ballina the salmon capital of Ireland, the artificial reef would further enhance and promote the attractiveness of north Mayo. It is hoped that pictures from a television camera on the sunken ship could be fed back to a proposed new interpretative centre,” he continued.

Mr Quinn told The Mayo News yesterday (Monday) that Fáilte Ireland had talked to Government officials about the possibility of a civil servant being seconded to the tourism authority to take charge of the marine leisure tourism brief. He also revealed there was confusion around the splintering of marine-related issues among various departments.

When The Mayo News contacted a number of Government departments yesterday, Mr Quinn’s concerns were further vindicated. A spokeswoman for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources – formerly the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources – said, as far as she was aware ‘marine leisure functions’ had been moved to the Department of Agriculture. However, when the Department of Agriculture was contacted, a spokeswoman said that it only dealt with ‘small pontoons’.

When the Department of Transport and Marine was then contacted, it emerged that it was not under its remit either. Its spokeswoman suggested contacting the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism; however, they had not responded at the time of going to press.

According to promoter, Dr Mick Loftus (Jnr), the project primarily needs the financial support of both county councils to undertake a feasibility study. Last night a motion by Fine Gael’s Cllr Michelle Mulherin calling on the authority to support a range of marine-related industries was debated and supported by Mayo County Council. Sligo County Council and Ballina Town Council have already formally given their support for the initiative.

“Once the wreck is sunk, its running costs will be minimal. It will have a 50-year life span and could possibly be the first of many to be sunk in the area. We hope to eventually have Killala Bay designated as Ireland’s second natural marine sanctuary,” said Dr Loftus.

Meanwhile, Deputy Dara Calleary said it was ‘a superb project’ and he would actively pursue funding for it.

“In my view, monies for this should be eligible under the Tourism Capital Project which, like Ballina’s pedestrian bridge, comes from Fáilte Ireland,” said Deputy Calleary.

Last year members of Granuaile Sub Aqua Club visited a similar project undertaken by the National Aquarium in Plymouth. In March 2004 the HMS Scylla was sunk off Whitestand Bay near Plymouth to become Europe’s first artificial reef. It has already become a popular diving site and research area for marine biologists. More recently, the HMS Cantebury was sunk off the New Zealand coast.

Meanwhile, at yesterday’s meeting of Mayo County Council, there was full support for a motion proposed by Cllr Michelle Mulherin which proposed that the council invite EU Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe Borg to Mayo.

A proposal by Cllr Cyril Burke to invite a representative from the Marine Institute to address a meeting of the council was also proposed and seconded.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Big ship, big opportunity

By John Geiser
February 08, 2008

The state Department of Environmental Protection has an opportunity to make an enormous contribution to recreational fishing, if it acts in the next few days.

New Jersey has a chance to obtain the Navy's 560-foot destroyer U.S.S. Radford as an addition to the state's artificial reef system, but it must file for acquisition by Feb. 13.

Bill Figley, former head of the state's artificial reef system, said the big vessel would be a valuable addition to the system.

He said the Radford is presently docked at the Navy's shipyard in Philadelphia, and will be made available for reef-building purposes. Other states also want to obtain the vessel.

"It would be a shame to see this valuable asset towed to another state when it's right in our backyard," he said.

The Democratic leadership of the state Assembly refused in January to post a bill that would have helped recreational fishing by prohibiting the placing of pots and traps on the state's artificial reefs.

This would be a good opportunity for the Corzine administration to make up for the Assembly's failure to help recreational fishing.

Capt. Pete Grimbilas of Reef Rescue, an organization dedicated to getting the commercial gear off the reefs built with anglers' money, said the destroyer would be a big plus for the reef system.

"This offers New Jersey a unique opportunity to enhance its marine environment, provide an extensive new fishing wreck for anglers, and create a sensational underwater attraction for divers," he said.

"The Radford would be the largest ship ever deployed by the DEP's reef program (and) it would also be the first warship," he added.

John J. Toth, president of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, wrote Lisa Jackson, commissioner of the DEP, urging her to use the power of her office to secure the Radford for reef-building purposes.

"This ship . . would be an ideal addition to our state's artificial reef program," he said. "Its huge structure would attract a correspondingly huge abundance of marine life and greatly enhance New Jersey's artificial reef program, which already is the envy of many coastal states."

Toth pointed out that the marine life that would be attracted to the vessel would enhance the marine environment for scuba divers and anglers.

"Residents and non-residents of our state using this vessel for diving and fishing would also benefit the local economy through their purchase of gas, meals, and diving and fishing gear," he continued.

Toth said the JCAA's membership unanimously passed a motion Jan. 29 to request the state to acquire the Radford.

"Since it would benefit all of the 1.3 million saltwater anglers and divers in our state, we strongly urge you (Jackson) to acquire the U.S.S. Radford for our artificial reef program," he added.

James A. Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said that organization also supports acquisition of the warship for the reef system.

"Other states have gotten large Navy ships recently, and this would be a real addition to New Jersey's reef system," he said.

Florida, California and Texas have all sunk large Navy vessels on their reef systems with success.

The aircraft carrier Oriskany was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast, and local charter and sight-seeing boats were booked immediately for the event as well as fishing and diving on the vessel months later.

Donofrio has been working with Reef Rescue in a new attempt to get commercial gear off the reefs along the state's coastline. Legislation has been introduced in both houses of the state Legislature, but hearings have not been scheduled yet.

Many donors to the state's artificial reef system were disappointed when the Assembly failed to deliver passage of the trap bill in January, and left some reefs monopolized by commercial gear.

Randy Roash, president of the Strathmere Fishing and Environmental Club, said his club decided to take a stand as other clubs have promised.

"The Strathmere Fishing and Environmental Club voted unanimously to suspend temporarily funding for the New Jersey artificial reef program," he said. "This vote reflects our disappointment in the New Jersey Assembly tabling legislation that would have addressed fish traps monopolizing our artificial reefs."

Roash pointed out that the club has supported both the Ocean City Artificial Reef and the Townsend Inlet reef through donations of time, public and member education and approximately $8,000 in donations.

"SFEC currently has $7,000 earmarked for future New Jersey artificial reef programs," he said. "Those funds are temporarily frozen until the pots-off-the-reefs legislation moves through both the Senate and the Assembly in a manner that represents a full and fair discussion."

Roash said the club firmly supports long-time partner in reef development Bill Figley when he says the reefs were designed for the public, resident and non-resident, to fish with hook and line.

"They were not designed to be monoolized by highly efficient trap-fishing gear," he concluded.


Sunken carrier reels in the divers


USA Today
February 08, 2008

The Oriskany is living up to its hype.

The decommissioned aircraft carrier, promised as a worldwide dive destination when it was sunk on May 17, 2006, is pumping millions of dollars into the economy around Pensacola, Fla., and creating dozens of jobs. Dive shops report visitors from all over the continental U.S. and as far away as Australia.

A study by the University of West Florida reports a $3.6 million annual economic impact from scuba divers visiting the Oriskany, the world's largest artificial reef sunk in 212 feet of water, 22.5 nautical miles from Pensacola Pass.

The ship generated more than 4,200 dive trips in its first full year and was responsible for creating 37 new jobs that generated $740,000 in salaries in Escambia County, the study by the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development reports.

Getting the word out hasn't been hard. International press coverage has been extensive for the ship, dubbed by former crewmembers the "Mighty O."


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Available: Destroyer suitable for reef


Press of Atlantic City
By Richard Degener
February 05, 2008

It's almost two football fields long. It displaces more than 9,000 tons. It may soon become the largest ship ever sunk, intentionally that is, off the coast of New Jersey.

The mothballed U.S. Navy destroyer USS Arthur W. Radford has been made available for "artificial reefing." In other words, the ship now moored at the U.S. Navy Yard in Philadelphia is free for the taking if somebody wants to take it offshore and sink it to create habitat for marine life.

The Navy usually sells such ships for scrap but is on a new course to turn them into artificial reefs, both as a memorial of sorts to those who served on them but also as a another way to get rid of them.

A group of recreational anglers and scuba divers along the New Jersey shore are making a case to sink it here, the closest ocean reef location to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. It would be the largest ship, and first warship, ever added to the state Department of Environmental Protection's system of 15 offshore reefs. The largest ship thus far has been the 456-foot USS Algol at the Shark River Reef off Manasquan Inlet.

"This would be the biggest thing they they've ever done and might be the biggest they ever do," said Bill Figley, who ran the DEP's reef network for years but is now retired.
Figley, whose love of the reef system continued even after retirement, is helping with the proposal. The numbers are mind-boggling. The ship is 563 feet long and 55 feet wide. Its draft below water is 32 feet, but then there is 140 feet above the water line. Figley figures it will cost at least $500,000 and as much as $4 million to sink the ship off New Jersey. This includes the cost of making sure it is environmentally safe before it is sunk.

It sounds like a lot, but Figley said fishing and diving clubs would raise much of the money. Copper wire, nickel, 500 tons of aluminum in the superstructure, and numerous engines on the ship could be sold to raise money for the project, Figley said.

"The DEP is not going to ask for tax dollars," Figley said.

The DEP is still considering the proposal. The Navy has given the states until March 28 to express interest in writing with a letter of endorsement from the governor. An application to transfer the destroyer to a state is due by April 28.

Fishing and diving groups are waging a letter-writing campaign to DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson.

"We've received many letters on the issue but no decision has been made," Darlene Yuhas, a DEP spokeswoman, said Monday.

The Jersey Coast Anglers Association, or JCAA, is urging Jackson to use the power of her office to secure the USS Radford. The JCAA notes there are 1.3 million saltwater anglers and divers in the state, and it would also attract people from outside New Jersey.

"Its huge structure would attract a correspondingly huge abundance of marine life and greatly enhance New Jersey's artificial reef program," said JCAA President John Toth. "Residents and non-residents of our state using this vessel for diving and fishing would also benefit the local economy through their purchase of gas, meals, diving and fishing gear."

Figley noted the a World War II-era U.S. Navy aircraft carrier turned into a reef off Florida, at a cost of $23 million, is already paying dividends. The Navy paid those costs. The Navy is not planning to pay the costs for the USS Radford, but Figley said it would listen to cost-sharing proposals.

The aircraft carrier is the largest Navy ship turned into a reef in America. The USS Radford would be the second largest.

"The diving boats in Florida are booked 18 months in advance. This will bring in hundreds of millions over its lifespan. The same thing happened in California with a Canadian destroyer," Figley said.

New Jersey's gentling sloping coast would have put the aircraft carrier too far out, 60 to 70 miles, to make it accessible to most divers. That's because clearance is required from the top of the ship to the surface of the ocean of 30 to 80 feet depending on location. Each reef site has its own clearance requirements.

Figley said masts and rigging would be removed from the USS Radford, but it would still be limited to three sites by the clearance requirements. This includes the Shark River Reef 16 miles off Manasquan Inlet, the Deepwater Reef 25 miles off Ocean City, or a new reef 25 miles off Cape May called the Deljerseyland Reef that serves the states of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. It would still be a decompression dive.

"As long as you're not going to the sea floor or penetrating the vessel, you could stay within 100 feet (of the surface). It would probably take half a dozen dives to see it all," Figley said.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Reef builders to get 'junk' from FPL, need $17,000 to deploy in St. Lucie County


TC Palm
By Gabriel Margasak
February 01, 2008

ST. LUCIE COUNTY — One person's scrap is a fish's home — well, many fish actually.

Part of an aquatic residence being dreamed up off the Treasure Coast was once the container used to ship part of a nuclear reactor from France to the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant.

St. Lucie County's artificial reef builders picked through tens of thousands of pounds of material Monday that might be donated by Florida Power & Light, which included the non-radioactive reactor shipping container, part of a giant crane and other materials perfect for a plethora of sea life. The only trick will be how the county comes up with the $17,000 to deploy the items about 12 nautical miles off the Fort Pierce Inlet.

"We really get some good stuff form FP&L from time to time," said Jim Oppenborn, St. Lucie County's marine resource coordinator. "From our end, this material is very, very good. It's high-grade, very high quality steel. We normally couldn't get such big objects."

Among the trash turned habitat is a 50,000-pound column footer, several galvanized light poles and giant steel pot-shaped structures.

"We're not trying to attract any one particular species of fish," Oppenborn said. "But so far, we've documented 86 species of fish on our reefs."

Sharks, bait fish, snapper, grouper, sailfish, dolphin fish and schools of others are already plentiful on several previously deployed artificial reefs. And that attracts a plethora of divers and fishermen — which provides recreation opportunities and helps the local economy.

FPL officials were slated to help further by cutting holes in the reactor shipping container to make it more habitable for aquatic life.

April Schilpp, FPL's director of nuclear communications, said the Unit 2 reactor at the St. Lucie plant was taken off line in October 2007 to replace the reactor head vessel to "manage it for future reliability of the reactor."

The 18-feet in diameter, 7-feet tall, piece was shipped in the container aboard a massive Russian cargo plane because it was the only aircraft big enough to handle the load.

The piece of the reactor could be loosely described as the top of a pressure cooker.

Such a replacement is rarely needed, Schilpp said.

While the reactor shipping containers were big, Oppenborn has even grander dreams in the works — he wants to tow a decommissioned U.S. Navy destroyer from Philadelphia to the Treasure Coast to sink as another artificial reef.

The U.S. Navy is offering the 563-foot Ex-Arthur W. Radford for use as an artificial reef, according to navy records.


Monday, January 28, 2008

HMAS Adelaide to become divers' delight


ABC News
January 28, 2008

Preparations are being made for a decommissioned Navy ship to be sunk to create an artificial reef off the New South Wales Central Coast.

The HMAS Adelaide will be sunk off Terrigal Beach later this year in a project expected to inject about $17 million into the local economy in its first few years.

The frigate was involved in operations in the Persian Gulf and East Timor, as well as the rescue of yachtsmen Tony Bullimore and Thiery Dubois, after it was commissioned in 1980.

The secretary of the Artificial Reef Project, Sue Dengate, says profits will be made from diving tourism and associated enterprises.

"[Divers] have to have accommodation and so forth, and they'll also be visiting other tourist attractions on the Central Coast before they fly to their other destinations," she said.

Ms Dengate says the ship will be handed over to the NSW Government in June.

"Then the successful tenderer will take her up to Newcastle, strip her, clean her and make her safe for diving," he said.

"Then she'll be towed back down to just north of Avoca, off the skillion at Terrigal, and explosive charges will sink her."


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Officials set May sink date for ship planned as artificial reef

January 26, 2008

KEY WEST, Fla. - Officials overseeing the transformation of a retired U.S. Air Force missile tracking ship into an artificial reef off Key West said Saturday they are planning to sink the ship May 15.

The General Hoyt S. Vandenberg is currently at a Norfolk, Va., shipyard where workers are preparing it for sinking by removing environmental hazards. Plans are to scuttle the ship in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Officials with Reefmakers, the organization overseeing the project, are planning to tow the 522-foot-long vessel to Key West sometime in March for final preparations.

Supporters say the Vandenberg project will provide additional marine habitat and a new attraction for recreational divers.

Before it was decommissioned in 1983, the Vandenberg also tracked manned U.S. space missions, beginning with Mercury blastoffs in the early 1960s. The ship played a role as a Russian science ship in "Virus," a 1999 motion picture starring Jamie Lee Curtis.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Society covets Catalyst hulks for diving site


Peak Online
By Jeremy Bloom
January 24, 2008

Ferro-cement ships ideal for sunken 'shipwrecks'

One of the things that makes Powell River unique is the Catalyst Paper Corporation floating breakwater, but that may be changing in the next few years.

Composed of 10 vessels sometimes called "the incredible hulks," the breakwater has been in place for more than 50 years, and is reaching the end of its useful life, said Brian Baarda, Catalyst vice-president and Powell River division manager. "In years past, there was a big log pond there, and we needed that many ships for the breakwater," he said. "But today, given the mill's footprint, we don't need as many ships there, and they're getting old. They won't last forever."

Baarda said the company had been told at one point that the hulks wouldn't be suitable for making an underwater reef. So, he was pleasantly surprised last year, when, in a meeting on dive tourism, he was told by Howie Robins, president of the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia, that his organization has had its eye on the hulks for some time.

The Vancouver-based Artificial Reef Society has been carrying out reef installations since 1991. They've sunk six ships and one Boeing 737 in the waters off BC's coast in carefully controlled conditions that provide a boon for sea life and recreational divers.

Robins said those reefs have become a big tourist draw. "Americans love to dive on shipwrecks," he said. "The population of visiting divers has been growing year after year because we've been adding to our fleet of underwater shipwrecks. And in terms of marine life colonization, you have to go see it to believe it. It's amazing how fast these ships become thick with marine life."

Baarda said that Catalyst would be very supportive of Robins' efforts, and is looking forward to seeing an action plan put together over the next few months.

Robins said that his society will be looking for appropriate sites based on wind conditions, water depth, commercial and recreation boat traffic and fishing, as well as seeking areas that are already popular with divers. "The bottom line, this is a proactive approach to disposing of vessels in an environmentally safe and sound way," he said.

Robins added that with weather patterns becoming more violent, with high winds and choppy water, it's good that Catalyst is looking to do this soon. "If we have more weather systems blowing through like the ones we saw this winter, well, we don't want to see a disaster," he said.

Kathy Friesen, co-owner of Alpha Dive Services and a member of the working group on tourism that spawned this effort, said she would be thrilled to have an artificial reef as part of Powell River's underwater environment. "They're environmentally clean, there's no detrimental effect," she said. "And having a home-grown team doing this, you couldn't ask for a better set-up. They're located right in Vancouver."

Robins called the situation a total win-win. "The environment wins, the economic conditions win, tourism wins," he said.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Home sweet underwater home


Savannah Morning News
By Mary Landers
January 22, 2008

Fish surprise researchers with how quickly they colonize a sunken ship

A ship that once helped researchers learn about sea creatures has become a home to those same animals.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources sank the R/V Jane Yarn off the Georgia coast as an artificial reef in late August. It rests under 72 feet of water on a sandy-bottomed area called J Reef, outside Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

On a recent dive, sanctuary researchers were surprised to find hoards of fish had already moved in. Four barracudas, with their fierce under bites, call it home. Schools of amber jack and spadefish swarm past the port holes. Black sea bass, grunts and cigar minnows also visit.

Fish can't resist the Jane Yarn, which offers the only shelter in its neighborhood, said Greg McFall, the sanctuary's research coordinator.

"It's like finding a condo out in the desert," he said.

So they moved in fast.

"It was a surprise to see how quickly they colonized the wreck," McFall said. "To reach the capacity they already have, I thought it would take the better part of a year."

The 63-foot ship was named for Jane Hurt Yarn, a Georgia conservationist who helped convince President Jimmy Carter to designate Gray's Reef, to the east of St. Catherines Island, a sanctuary.

About three weeks after the vessel was sunk, biologist Danny Gleason inspected the new artificial reef. He saw a barracuda and a school of spadefish but little else.

The Georgia Southern University researcher is interested in seeing what creatures attach themselves to the steel-hulled vessel.

So far, the Jane Yarn is covered in acorn barnacles, so many that they obscure the ship's name.

But artificial reefs don't necessarily attract the same corals, sponges and other creatures as natural reefs, Gleason said.

"It's like how you can create a wetland, but it never functions like a natural wetland," he said.

He plans to study the succession of animals on the ship, possibly by scraping off patches of barnacles and monitoring what grows back.

"That's what interested us in the Jane Yarn," he said.

Others, including local divers and fishermen, for whom the Jane Yarn is already becoming a destination will be keeping tabs on the variety and volume of fish.

McFall called for them to be patient.

"Snapper and grouper were not there in the numbers they will be when it's established a little more," McFall said. "It might take a couple years to be fully functioning community."


Sunday, January 20, 2008

City centre TV link to shipwreck


January 20, 2008

A live visual feed to a sunken warship off south east Cornwall is going on display to the public in a city centre.

The anchor from the HMS Scylla will have monitors acting as an "underwater eye" to the wreck 23m (75ft) below the surface in Whitsand Bay.

The decommissioned Royal Navy frigate was sunk in a controlled explosion in March 2004 to become Europe's first artificial diving reef.

The anchor will become an attraction at Plymouth's railway station.

Thousands of divers have visited the artificial reef since 2004.

The ship was built in 1968, weighs 2,500 tonnes and is 113m (370ft) long.

She was bought by the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth in 2004 with £200,000 provided by the South West Regional Development Agency.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Warships sunk for artificial reefs may pose PCB hazard - claims an environmental group


The Province
By Marianne White
January 08, 2008

An environmental group is worried that Canadian navy ships that were sunk as artificial reefs may pose an environmental threat because they contain PCB-contaminated wiring.

One of the scuttled vessels, the former HMCS Saguenay, has been sitting on the ocean floor outside Lunenberg, N.S., for more than 13 years. This type of warship was built in the 1950s and 60s and PCBs -- that have been linked to cancer -- were then not known to be harmful.

The man behind the sinking of the Saguenay denied a media report that this ship and others scuttled off the B.C. coast may contain PCBs because they were not stripped of all of their wires.

"Anything that was considered a hazard had been removed," said Richard Welsford of the Nova Scotia Artificial Reef Association.

Welsford thinks no one should be worried about the PCBs and said that very little wire is left in the Saguenay.

But Nova Scotia's Ecology Action Centre still fears that the PCBs or other toxic substances, such as paint, could harm marine life.

"There are no ecological benefits to sinking ships," said the centre's Mark Butler. "They only do it for tourism and diving purposes.

"You have to be very cautious because you never know what you might discover in five or 10 years time that you hadn't taken into account. Once you [sink] a ship, it's never coming back up again," he added.

Butler said he is relieved that the navy has decided to strip two decommissioned warships, HMCS Gatineau and HMCS Terra Nova, of all wiring before they are sunk as artificial reefs.

Michael Ryan, the head of the association that plans to buy the Terra Nova, said the navy had notified him that the ship would be sold wire-free and PCB-free. It is reported that the work will cost about $1 million per ship.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Scuba divers warned to be cautious exploring HMNZS Canterbury


By Luther Monroe
December 19, 2007

BAY OF ISLANDS, New Zealand — Authorities warned divers to be cautious when exploring the HMNZS Canterbury, a warship sunk as a scuba diving attraction in the Bay of Islands.

Police and the Bay of Islands Canterbury Charitable Trust urged divers to respect the depth and difficulty of diving where machinery and confined areas increase risks.

"We anticipate that many divers will explore the HMNZS Canterbury over the next few months," a police spokesperson told CDNN. "It is important that recreational divers understand wreck diving requires caution, planning and specialized training."

In November, the HMNZS Canterbury was scuttled to a depth of 38 meters at Deep Water Cove.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

HMCS Terra Nova: Just sink it


By Ronald Zajac
December 12, 2007

BROCKVILLE, Ontario — The man who once led a local effort to sink a warship in the St. Lawrence River here is cheering a new group's attempt to do the same thing.

But former city councillor Doug Campbell said the latest attempt to create an artificial reef that will draw more scuba divers will have to cross some difficult bureaucratic waters and could risk running aground on the issue of liability.

However, the secretary of the newest group's board of directors said his group has already navigated around that problem.

In the late 1990s and 2000, Campbell was chairman of the St. Lawrence Artificial Reef Association (SARA), which mounted an unsuccessful three-year effort to acquire the HMCS Gatineau and sink it in the river here.

Now, a group called the Eastern Ontario Artificial Reef Association (EOARA) has made a $150,000 bid to buy the 2,800-tonne HMCS Terra Nova, a 372-foot anti-submarine destroyer escort built in 1956, to sink in the St. Lawrence River just west of Brockville.

The plan is to tow the decommissioned vessel, now docked at CFB Halifax, over here and sink it in the river two miles east of Brown's Bay, about 3,000 feet offshore and 130 feet down, by summer 2009.

The group unveiled its plans to the public in Gananoque on Friday.

Proponents believe the $2-million project will generate $8 million in tourism income for eastern Ontario in its first year and attract more than 6,000 divers annually.

EOARA is seeking up to $1.5 million from the federal and provincial governments for the project.

"I'm very pleased that they're doing it and I wish them the absolute best of luck," Campbell said Sunday.

Campbell said his group was ultimately unable to get assurances that, were an unfortunate accident ever to happen to a diver on the artificial reef, SARA members would not be personally liable.

"The problem really was that you couldn't get a yes or a no out of anybody in the government," said Campbell.

"The thing that killed it, in my view, was the question of liability."

A group from Kingston eventually took over SARA's bid for the Gatineau but was unsuccessful, said Campbell, who is willing to share information with EOARA on the latest bid.

Rockport resident Michael Ryan, secretary-treasurer of the six-member EOARA board, said Sunday the group has already got a government agency, which has asked not to be identified, to co-sign on an insurance policy that will fully cover EOARA members for a full year after the ship is sunk.

After that, said Ryan, the wreck reverts to Crown property, just like the other wrecks in the area, so liability is no longer at issue.

Over the weekend, a longtime river watcher also gave the new project a qualified thumbs-up.

Don Ross, executive director of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve board of directors, said the EOARA project could be beneficial, as long as the new wreck is monitored for its impact on the river.

Ross suggested on the weekend the divers who visit the wreck could provide those crucial sets of eyes on the ship's effects.

Ross's board oversees the UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve located roughly between Brockville, Gananoque and Westport, which includes St. Lawrence Islands National Park.

Like many federal and provincial officials, Ross wants to make sure the ship does not pose an environmental threat.

"Anyone would have a concern that the boat was entirely cleaned up before it went into the water."

Ross is confident current regulations are strict enough to address this issue, but he hopes the authorities will also monitor the impact this massive wreck would have on the river once it is down.

There are already many steel-hulled wrecks on the bottom of the Great Lakes that could serve as models for this project, said Ross.

And the divers who would visit the battleship could provide authorities with their observations about such things as changes in species on the riverbed, he said.

Overall, said Ross, the EOARA project sounds like a "win-win," bringing the area economic benefits, as long as it is properly monitored.

The project got the enthusiastic backing on the weekend of a Brockville dive shop owner who was also involved with the earlier project.

"It's awesome," said Dive Brockville Adventure Centre owner Helen Cooper, who was the secretary of SARA.

She agrees with supporters' arguments that a new, large wreck would move diver traffic off the area's much older wooden wrecks, which are now feeling the effects of heavy diver traffic.

"It helps preserve our marine heritage."

Cooper is also confident the Terra Nova will be scrubbed clean before it is sunk so it will not create an environmental hazard.

"If anything, it's a benefit to the environment because it provides habitat," said Cooper, noting the large ship will provide many species with shelter and a place to feed, nest and spawn.

In a subsequent e-mail to The Recorder and Times, Cooper said divers would definitely be able to monitor the wreck for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources.

"We monitor the existing wrecks for changes in conditions and notice any changes in marine life such as the rise and decline of zebra mussels, increased gobies and increase in fresh water sponges," she wrote. "It would be easy to set up a committee of local divers to record specific information for MNR."

EOARA made a presentation to the Upper St. Lawrence Scuba Charter Association at Buds on the Bay Sunday morning and it was well-received, Cooper added.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Thar she blows: frigate scuttled

By Alice Hudson
November 04, 2007

The build-up was huge. Nine months of planning, a delayed explosion date, another hour's delay yesterday - but then... ka-boom. In just four minutes the ex-HMNZS Canterbury had disappeared into her watery grave.

The Bay of Islands' newest tourist attraction now lies under about 30m of sparkling water in Deep Water Cove. The resulting artificial reef is expected to boost tourism by 15-20 per cent and become a divers' playground.

Yesterday's scuttling was a happy occasion - though charged with emotion for many. The frigate had served the country for 35 years before being taken out of commission in 1995.

Norm Greenall was chief petty officer when the Canterbury was launched in 1970. He was visibly moved by yesterday's scuttling, with its pyrotechnics, smoke and bagpipes playing Amazing Grace.

"She was the best ship I ever served on. This is very emotional, it's hugely hard," he said before the detonation.

Greenall had helped with previous scuttlings of frigates, including the HMNZS Waikato. "This one has been the most emotional of all."

Commander Andrew Ford, who had brought the ship back from East Timor, said committing the vessel to the deep would ensure she served a whole new purpose for many years.

"This is a very moving time for those who have served on this vessel."

More than 3000 people had served on the frigate, project manager and chairman of the Bay of Islands Canterbury Trust Richard Witehira told the Herald on Sunday.

The trust had spent close to $700,000 on the project.

The scuttling would be a boon for tourism and economic development, he said . "It provides a chance for small businesses to take people down and swim through a beautiful vessel. Economic development for our people I believe is very important."

Yesterday's scuttling was a grand occasion, attracting a spectator flotilla of 300 to 400 boats, including several large hospitality launches. Helicopters buzzed overhead, as the official detonation time of 2.30pm came and went while last-minute safety checks were made to ensure no one was within the 500m safety exclusion zone.

Local kaumatua, Northland MP Dover Samuels, media and special guests with strong ties to the ship were allowed on board for a prayer ceremony before detonation. Inside, the Canterbury smelled of diesel, its walls spotted with graffiti.

The engine room, galley and shell room had already been carefully flooded and holes had been cut into its sides, said chief firing officer Keith Simpson. This ensured the explosives imported from the United States would cause as little damage as possible to the frigate as it fell to the sea floor.

Fourteen-year-old diver and former sea cadet Lucy Hamnett got to "stomp my foot" and detonate the explosives with a foot pedal, from a nearby vessel. Her parents, who moved here two months ago from Britain, had paid $19,200 in a charity auction for the privilege.

There were a few gasps and tense moments as the ship slowly sank, listing dangerously to one side. Sighs of relief were audible as the vessel suddenly righted itself and slipped smoothly underwater.

Paul Morris, founder of website Dive Planet, and his son Peter Morris helped strip the boat in preparation for the scuttling.

Paul Morris said divers from all over the world would enjoy exploring the wreck. "There will be up to 60m visibility, and there isn't much of a current, so there won't be too much stirring up down at the bottom. Open water divers are going to go down there and go 'wow... so that's what a wreck really looks like'."

It would also be an exciting underwater playground for junior divers, he said. The foremast, or topmost part of the frigate, would sit 6m below the surface.

Divers were waiting in their wetsuits for the all-clear to start exploring yesterday.


Friday, November 02, 2007

St. Lucie selling reef name for $20K


Pensacola News Journal
November 02, 2007

STUART, Fla. - For $20,000, companies and individuals can attach their name to tons of concrete railroad ties and culvert pipes in a plan by St. Lucie County to sell naming rights for 23 planned artificial reefs.

The names of those who purchase the rights will be stamped on private and county navigation maps for all to see.

St. Lucie County Erosion District managers, who run the program with volunteer help, say the benefits are as diverse as the reefs themselves. The new aquatic habitats lure a plethora of fish, fishermen and money for the economy, along with keeping tons of material out of the landfill.

?It?s a nice potential for the corporation to get some publicity. So it?s a win-win situation. And also it?s a good reflection on the corporation that makes that donation because it?s an environmental thing,? said Bill Bobb, president of the Port St. Lucie Anglers Club.

Jim Oppenborn, St. Lucie County?s marine resource coordinator, said the county has about 11,500 tons of old concrete light poles, slabs and particularly good reef building pipes, but there is not enough money to pay a contractor to set them out to sea.

Officials estimate it will cost at least $391,000 to build all 23 reefs and thousands more to monitor and keep them in good shape.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

The $6 million man-made reef


October 14, 2007

NORFOLK, Virginia -- A decommissioned Air Force ship is being prepared at a Virginia shipyard to become a new habitat for marine life and an attraction for recreational divers in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

A $6 million project to turn the 524-foot-long General Hoyt S. Vandenberg into a reef is scheduled to culminate in the spring of 2008, with the vessel's sinking in 140 feet of water about six miles south of Key West.

Retired in 1983, the Vandenberg floated for 24 years among ships in the U.S. Maritime Administration's James River Naval Reserve Fleet at Fort Eustis, Va.

The ship tracked spaceflights off Florida and served as a Russian science ship in Virus, a 1999 release starring Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland.

Project officials say the Vandenberg reef should generate $8 million annually in tourism-related sales after it is sunk and point out environmental benefits, especially alleviating recreational diving pressure on natural coral reefs.

Prior to sinking, workers must rid the vessel of all environmental hazards. That means removing paint, stripping out almost 800,000 feet of wiring loaded with toxic products used in insulation before being banned, and off-loading any remaining waste petroleum products.

More than 50,000 man-hours of work will be necessary, but the end result will be a shipwreck that should appeal to divers of all skill levels, project officials said.

''We came up with the Vandenberg from a list of about 400 ships because the Vandenberg seems to offer a little bit to everybody,'' said Joe Weatherby of Reefmakers, the company coordinating the project. ``There's going to be 10 or 11 places along the entire length of the ship that will come up to within about 40 feet of the surface. That's a lot more area for a rookie [diver] to explore.''

Most of the funding for the project is coming from Florida Keys government sources, including the region's tourism council. The Maritime Administration is contributing $1.25 million to the effort.

The addition of the Vandenberg is to anchor the lower end of a dive experience that area dive shop owners are calling the Florida Keys Wreck Trek. At the top, off Key Largo, is the former U.S. Navy Landing Ship Dock Spiegel Grove, another ship that was ''mothballed'' at James River.

The Vandenberg began its nautical life in 1943 under a different name, the Gen. Harry S. Taylor, as a troop transport ship.

After participating in World War II, the Hungarian Revolution and the Cold War, it was overhauled to become a missile-tracking vessel in the Atlantic. When it got that assignment, it became the Vandenberg.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hundreds of NYC Subway Cars Becoming Reefs in New Jersey


September 19, 2007

TRENTON, NJ -- Some 600 New York City subway cars will spend the rest of their days down the shore as artificial reefs.

The decision by state Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson was eagerly anticipated by fishermen and divers excited about the fish the subway cars will attract.

But some environmentalists are wary, saying the subway cars contain potentially hazardous materials.

It's not the first time old subway cars were scuttled off the New Jersey coast to create artificial reefs. In a memo issued Monday, Jackson cited studies that have found no effects from asbestos in an older generation of subway cars sunk at sea a few years ago.

``Of course, we've got to wait on New York to clean up the cars'' before they can be placed on reefs, Thomas P. Fote, legislative chairman for the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, told the Asbury Park Press for Wednesday's newspapers.

Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society said there are better alternatives than old subway cars.

``New Jersey's artificial-reef program should only utilize the highest quality materials. There are unanswered questions about the integrity of the subway cars,'' he told the newspaper.

Environmental groups objected when the DEP accepted hundreds of 1960s-vintage subway cars from the MTA several years ago, particularly after they learned the cars had fireproofing materials that contained asbestos.

That prompted then-DEP commissioner Bradley M. Campbell to say the agency would accept no more until it had studied the issues of longevity on the sea floor and whether the asbestos could pose any hazard.

Jackson cited a South Carolina case in which subway cars hosted dense communities of marine life after only 10 months under water. She also noted a three-year study by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife showing each subway car hosted 323 reef fish. This included black sea bass, tog and cunner, The Press of Atlantic City reported.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Artificial reef concept needs to be reexamined says leading scientist


By Jim Loney
July 08, 2007

WASHINGTON -- When people began dumping used tires in the ocean 40 years ago to create artificial reefs, they gave little thought to the potential environmental cost, or to how difficult it would be to pick them up.

"It was one of those ideas that seemed good at the time," said Jack Sobel, a senior scientist at The Ocean Conservancy, a Washington-based environmental group. "Now I think it's pretty clear it was a bad idea."

Now, local authorities are going after some 700,000 tires dumped off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, up the coast from Miami. A team of 40 divers from the U.S. Army, Navy and Coast Guard spent three weeks in June pulling up 10,373 sand-filled and slime-coated tires from the ocean floor.

Using the tire project as a salvage exercise, the military divers learned they could strap together 50 to 70 tires with wire cables and lift them to the surface with inflatable air bags, where a crane hauled the bundle from the water.

Millions of tires, usually bundled with nylon straps or steel cables, were cast into the sea off Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and off the U.S. states of New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, California and Florida.

The idea was to provide habitat for fish while disposing of trash from the land, but in the rugged and corrosive environment of the ocean, nylon straps wore out and snapped, cables rusted, and tires broke free.

Thousands have been tossed up on U.S. shores, particularly during hurricanes. Tires dotted the sand as far as the eye could see along North Carolina's Topsail Island after Hurricane Fran crashed the coast in 1996.

The tires dumped off Fort Lauderdale posed a particular threat. When they broke free they migrated shoreward and ran into a living reef tract, climbing up its slope and killing everything in their path.

"If we can keep the project going we think they can get all the tires and then the reef can recover," said Ken Banks of Broward County's Environmental Protection Department. "But the reef recovery will probably take decades."


Officials said the Fort Lauderdale project drew together a host of government and military agencies to salvage the tires cheaply.

"If you have to pay to make them go away, it would have cost about $17 per tire. We got that down to about $2 per tire, in part because they are making other products out of them," said William Nuckols, a project coordinator for Coastal America, a U.S. government agency.

The tires were trucked to a disposal plant in Georgia, where they were chipped into fuel for a waste recycling plant.

U.S. states no longer permit tire reefs. But Sobel said the entire concept of artificial reefs needs to be reexamined.

They have been created around the globe using all manner of material, from tires and concrete sewer pipes to discarded airplanes and ships. One of the largest, the rusting 880-foot (270-metre) U.S. aircraft carrier Oriskany, was sent to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico last year.

They are promoted by local officials as tourist attractions and by fishing captains and scuba operators who say they create new habitats and nurseries for fish and other sea creatures.

But Sobel said there are big questions that need to be answered.

Do they damage natural habitats, as the tires did off Fort Lauderdale? Do they concentrate marine creatures and make it easier for fishers and divers to catch them, exacerbating an overfishing problem and causing lasting damage to fisheries?

Do they draw eggs and larvae that would otherwise settle in natural habitats?

"There's little evidence that artificial reefs have a net benefit," Sobel said.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Divers begin removing artificial tire reef off Fort Lauderdale


Tampa Bay's News 10
June 04, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Divers began removing up to 2-million tires from the ocean floor off Florida's southeast coast today

The used tires were dumped there in the 1970s to create an artificial reef, a scheme that turned into an ecological disaster.

The idea was to create new marine habitat and alternate dive sites with what was touted as the world's largest artificial tire reef. The plan also served to dispose of tires that were clogging landfills.

But little sea life formed on the tires dumped about a mile offshore in 1972. Some of the bundles bound together with nylon and steel have broken loose and are scouring the ocean floor and washing up on beaches. Others are wedging up against the nearby natural reef, blocking coral growth and devastating marine life.

Army and Navy salvage divers began removing the tires today.

The entire operation is expected to run through 2010.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Diver-led group seeks support for artificial reef project


May 24, 2007

MOREHEAD, North Carolina -- The so-called "Graveyard of the Atlantic" can expect a few more guests. But unlike the ships and vessels that sank off North Carolina's coast because of storms and war, an effort is under way to promote tourism by purposely sinking ships so they'll become artificial reefs.

Such reefs would attract scuba divers, sport fishing enthusiasts, and researchers who can examine "underwater universities," supporters said.

The Eastern Carolina Artificial Reef Association (ECARA) has already received a donated barge and a sailboat for that purpose. Now, the group and its supporters want to sink a large decommissioned destroyer, cruiser, or other military ship on the ocean floor.

They're eyeing a location offshore near the existing reef created by the sunken USS Aeolus, a Navy cable layer, and the Spar, a former Coast Guard cutter.

"We are actively engaged in trying to get a large reef, a large ship, on the bottom," said Bill Thompson, a member of the nonprofit group.

But the path from obtaining a ship to sinking it can be long and expensive because of required cleaning, permits, insurance, and the rising cost for metal from decommissioned military vessels.

"These are all things involved. This is a very complicated process," said Jim Francesconi, artificial reef coordinator for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, which backs the idea.

The association, along with the North Carolina Artificial Reef Coalition, divers, sport fishing groups, and others have united behind the project and are launching a fundraising campaign.

Reefmakers Inc., a team of specialists who help locals sink ships for artificial reefs, recently pitched the idea as a benefit to the economy and environment.

"Tourism is the world's largest industry, and ecotourism is the fastest-growing segment of that industry," said ship wrecker Joe Weatherby.

Carteret County's dive shops, charter boats, restaurants, hotels, and existing tourism stops, including the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, also would benefit, said Dave Inscoe, executive director of the nonprofit Carteret County Economic Development Council.

"I see this as a real potential as a product for tourism," he said. "It's very important for the community to have those products and things for people to see."


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Oriskany: One year below


Pensacola News Journal
By Carlton Proctor
May 13, 2007

Scuttled carrier living up to its billing

Australia may have its Great Barrier Reef, but for serious scuba divers around the world, Pensacola's great carrier reef is the new hot spot.

A year ago Thursday, the decommissioned aircraft carrier Oriskany became the world's largest artificial reef when it was sunk some 24 miles southeast of Pensacola in the Gulf of Mexico.

The goal was to turn the 888-foot ship into an irresistible magnet for divers across the globe.

So far, divers have given consistently glowing accounts.

"I've thought lots about words to describe our dives on the Oriskany," said Tommy Smedley, a scuba instructor from Montgomery, Ala. "The only word that consistently comes to mind is 'fantastic.' The sheer magnitude of the wreck visible in clear blue water brings awe to even the most seasoned diver. Her beauty and her mystique beckon us to come back over and over again."

Rance Sackrider, who resides in Topeka, Kan., has made three dives on the Oriskany, and he's coming back in a couple of months for more.

"I hear nothing but positive comments about the dive operations and the people of Pensacola," he said. "Pensacola, be proud of yourself and the work you did to get this done."

The Oriskany's economic impact is more difficult to gauge.

The University of West Florida's Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development is in the midst of a study on the economic effect and does not yet have firm numbers to report.

What's known for sure is that the Oriskany is bringing new visitors to Pensacola. As a result, most major dive shops say they're doing well financially.

Eileen Beard, co-owner of the Scuba Shack, describes the Oriskany success as "absolutely phenomenal, incredible." She said her shop has enjoyed three years worth of business in the year since the Oriskany sank into 212 feet of water.

"Sixty-eight percent of the people who said they came here to dive said they never would have come if not for the Oriskany," she said.

But some dive-shop owners say Pensacola still suffers from a lack of tourist-related activities to keep divers here once they're back on land.

"Here's the problem with Pensacola," said Tim Thorsen, owner of Pensacola-based Viking Diving. "It needs to be promoted and pushed more.

"I've got 135 dives sites out there in the Gulf, and they are some of the best dive sites in the world, but people don't think of Pensacola as a vacation destination."

Jim Phillips, who co-owns MBT Divers in Pensacola, said the Oriskany dive site has "tremendous potential," but too many people are coming in for day trips from neighboring beaches.

"The Oriskany has made a lot of money for some people, and we're very happy about that," he said. "The dive boats have seen a tremendous increase, but the only downside is that it seems Destin and Orange Beach (Ala.) have made more of it than Pensacola."

'Playing catch-up'

Word of the Oriskany's reefing last year spread with Internet speed within the global dive community, helped along by a wave of publicity from the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and a host of major international dive magazines.

Merrick Vanlandingham, manager of Dive Pros in Pensacola, said he spends a good part of his work day just answering e-mails from interested divers in dozens of foreign countries.

"This is the most famous dive site in the world," he said.

Beard said Scuba Shack has attracted divers from all over the world.

"We've had them from Thailand, Guam, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, England, France, and we've even had some from Iran," she said.

But Phillips said a majority of his Oriskany diving customers stay in Destin and drive over for the day.

"I think where Pensacola is lacking is that there's nothing else for families to do here, other than go to the beach," he said. "The type of stuff families are looking for are shallow water, putt-putt, water parks and things like the (Fort Walton Beach) Gulfarium."

That view is echoed by Douglas Hammock, owner of H2O Below, a dive boat he operates in conjunction with MBT Divers.

He said he doesn't believe the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce understands that Pensacola is "playing catch-up" with Destin, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

"We need to be promoting the area and providing other things for people to do," he said.

"We need a water park. The beach is great, but other than bars and a few restaurants, there's nothing on the beach for families to do."

Meeting expectations

Despite these concerns, Robert Turpin believes the Oriskany is living up to expectations, and then some.

Turpin, manager of Escambia County's Marine Resources, was a key player in the intense national competition to win rights to the Oriskany.

"It's been a wonderful economic investment for the county," Turpin said. "We needed something positive after (Hurricane) Ivan. And we deserved it."

Turpin believes the $900,000 in bed-tax revenue the county spent to snare the Oriskany was money well spent. In addition, $40,000 came from local private donations and $50,000 came from Okaloosa County.

Ed Schroeder, vice president of tourism development for the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, has seen firsthand the power of the Oriskany to attract a new, well-heeled element to Pensacola's tourism economy.

During an international convention of dive equipment manufacturers in Orlando last year, he and local dive shop exhibitors were practically mobbed by interested divers.

"We had more than 1,000 exhibitors there, and more than 10,000 people came through," Schroeder said. "The people who came were like sponges for information about the Oriskany. I've been going to these type of trade shows for 18 years, and it's the first time in my life where I felt like my product was one of the most sought after of the whole show."

Schroeder said the area's overall tourism marketing strategy is changing to incorporate the Oriskany and promote it as one of the many local attractions unique to Pensacola.

But those efforts take time and money to pay off, he said.

"We have a marketing strategy base that doesn't really change much year to year," he said. "There are some nuances that change each year, and the Oriskany is certainly one of those nuances that will affect our marketing strategy."

Fame spreading

As the Oriskany's fame spreads as a world-class dive site, it's also serving as an underwater memorial to the many thousands of sailors and Marines who served on the carrier over its lifetime.

Mike Hajek, a former Oriskany crew member and resident of Cape May, N.J., said he plans to fly to Pensacola this week to join a contingent of his crewmates for the Oriskany Association Reunion events.

Among those events are an open house on Wednesday at MBT Divers featuring underwater video of the ship and images and artifacts from the "Mighty O." A ceremonial ship's bell donated by the USS George Bush will be placed on the carrier, and there will be military fly-bys.

As a tribute to crew members, living and dead, Hajek plans to visit the Oriskany site on Thursday and drop an original set of his Navy dog tags down the ship's conning tower stack.

So strong is the bond with the ship, that some families even have asked for cremated remains of crew members to be placed aboard the ship, local dive shop owners said.

The owners said they've discouraged the business.

"We don't want it to become a graveyard," Phillips said.

Veteran Pensacola diver George Jose, who has made nine dives on the Oriskany, said each time he goes down, he sees the ship fostering more and more life.

"That ship down there is creating so much life," Jose said. "It's a good feeling because the ship did not die. It wasn't cut up for scrap. The ship is still serving. It is still alive."


The Oriskany experience


Pensacola News Journal
May 13, 2007

"I've been down on the Oriskany 11 times over the past year, and every time I dive there, I am reminded of the great respect that the dive community has for the Oriskany as a military monument and memorial.

"As you descend from the surface, the excitement builds as your first glimpse of the ship draws near. Then, out of the gloom, you see it. It is HUGE! The next thing you see is a large American flag unfurled and billowing in the water current.

"Your excitement is checked as you realize that this is a military monument, a sacred place. Excitement returns as you explore, but the reverence stays with you throughout the dive, and long after.

"I never tire of diving the Oriskany. It is a unique experience.

"I also love to go spear fishing when I dive. I have enjoyed seeing the sea life take hold and flourish. Over the last four trips to the Oriskany, average-size fish that I have seen are in excess of 20 pounds."

-- Bryan Clark, Pensacola

"I've been down on the Oriskany eight or nine times, and every time I go down there, something else is different about it. It's just spectacular.

"I dove it the second day it went down, and you could already see small crustaceans and tiny fish, and now you're seeing fish you don't normally see in these waters.

"First time I went down I said, 'Holy moly.' I did not imagine the grandiosity of it. It's so big. It's huge.

"That ship down there is creating so much life. It's a good feeling because the ship did not die. It wasn't cut up for scrap, the ship is still serving. It's still alive.''

-- George Jose, Pensacola

"The first time I dove it, the water was really clear. The ship just got brighter and brighter. It was reflecting so much light from the surface. It's so massive you just can't believe the size of it.

"There are so many divers swimming in and out, it looks like a child's play house. When you're diving the ship, it's like being weightless in space; you can let the current just float you along.

"I've been down more than 60 times, and I'm still finding places on the ship I've never been."

-- Cathy Watson, Pensacola

"It really is different from last year to this year. There is so much growth on the flight deck. My first impression on my first dive, it was so clear. While we were descending, it just rose out of the depths. It is just awesome.

"I was surprised, being nearly 100 feet down, just how much you can see.

"You can see all kinds of fish, sea turtles, octopus. You can just feel the life of it. It's like flying, like nothing you could experience on land. My daughter and I are going on May 17, and we're so looking forward to it."

-- Karen Davis, Gulf Breeze

"I can't find words to describe how much it changed from this January to April. It looks like a wreck now. It looks beautiful. It's exceeded my expectations. And it's really cool to see the interest the Oriskany has generated around the world."

-- Debbie Norris of Pensacola, part-time dive instructor


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

After Ten Years, Project to Sink the Vandenberg off Florida Keys Begins


Underwater Times
April 04, 2007

Norfolk, Virginia - The ex-USAFS Vandenberg was moved from a collection of retired government ships anchored in the James River near Newport News, Virginia Friday. The Vandenberg was decommissioned in 1986 and has rested at anchor with over 25 retired ships of the reserve fleet often referred as the "Ghost Fleet."

"After today's successful move of the ship, the City of Key West now holds the title to Vandenberg. This project is a great example of citizens working with government agencies to take a big step in creating a unique recreational diving and fishing site that will grow our economy while giving our natural reefs a break," said Bill Verge, City Commissioner Key West Florida.

"The people of Monroe County will reap the environmental and recreational benefits from sinking the Vandenberg as an artificial reef in their own backyards. So many people who have worked behind the scenes to make this project a success should take a bow. Personally as a scuba diver I have to admit that I am especially excited to see the landmark artificial reef blossom by the sinking of the Vandenberg," said Mario DiGennaro, Mayor of Monroe County.

Reefmakers LLC of Morsetown New Jersey is the lead contractor coordinating the safety and environmental cleanup of the ship necessary to prepare the Vandenberg as an artificial reef . Planning for today's 26-mile tow from the Ghost Fleet mooring to the shipyard began in 2003. The Vandenberg will be cleaned and prepared for deployment in Key West at Colonna's Shipyard, Inc. of Norfolk, VA. The vessel will be ready to move to Key West late this year and deployed at the reef site early next year.

"Today marks a major milestone in our mission to sink the Vandenberg as an artificial reef. The environmental and safety processes the Reefmakers team will use on this project will help create more artificial reefs from the retired ships which makes sound environmental and economic sense," Jeff Dey CEO Reefmakers LLC.

Bill Horn of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission helped plan and supervise the Vandenberg's move and provided regulatory guidance for today's move and the events that will lead up to the sinking of the ship as an artificial reef.

"The main objective of the Vandenberg project is take the pressure of the natural reefs and provide additional habitat for sea life and create recreational fishing and scuba diving opportunities," said Horn.

"Thanks to support from Mario DeGennaro Mayor of Monroe County and Bill Verge, City Commissioner Key West Florida, and a large number of dedicated people at ARK and Reefmakers, the long awaited operational phase of the Vandenberg artificial reef project has finally begun. We are all very excited," said Jeff Dey

Joe Weatherby of Reefmakers has been a principal in the organization of this project since its inception.

"I want to thank all of the people, not just in the Keys, but in the state and the country, too. It has been a big effort. We are just thrilled," said Joe Weatherby.

For more information on the Vandenberg dive in to


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Artificial reef to be named for expert boat builders, conservationists


Boca Raton News
By John Johnston
December 25, 2006

Sunken ships becoming havens for marine life has been well known for centuries

John “Pop” Rybovich, and his son John Rybovich, Jr. are the local man best known for advocacy of doing Mother Nature one better – scuttling ships to create artificial reefs.

Which is why when the Celtic Crusader -- a more than 260-foot derelict freighter now rusting away on the Miami River is scuttlled in 200 feet of water immediately north of the Lake Worth Inlet – it will be called the John Rybovich Endowment Reef, according to Tom Twyford, Executive Director of the West Palm Beach Fishing Club.

The club is contributing $10,000 toward the $80,000 artificial reef creation project, and is doing so in honor of the men, Twyford told The Boca Raton News. Pop Rybovich served as fishing club president for eight years; John, Jr., for 20 years.

The club’s contribution will be matched with a $70,000 contribution from the Vessel Registration Fee Trust Fund, county commissioners said. In turn, commissioners have contracted with Bunnell Foundation, Inc., to provide procurement, preparation, towing and scuttling of the derelict freighter.

An additional $5,000 above the contract price will cover any contingencies that might arise, commissioners said, and with any remaining balance returned to reserves when the project is complete.

According to National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA),
“few individuals have impacted big game fishing as much as John “Pop” Rybovich. Besides developing several lasting innovations for sport fishing boats, Rybovich was among the first organizers of several major international fishing tournaments, which helped popularize and broaden the sport.” He also paved the way for conservation efforts that would help to preserve big game fishing for future generations, the NMMA said.

A founder of the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, Pop Rybovich was the first recipient of the club’s “Lifetime Achievement Award”, marking efforts on behalf of sport fishing and conversation.

The contract with Bunnell calls for the work to be completed within 90 days of it being signed.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Diver seeks to sink ships as artificial reefs


Inside Bay Area
By Julia Scott
December 27, 2006

PORTOLA VALLEY - Recreational scuba diver Dr. Harry Wong thinks he has the perfect solution to the Navy's dilemma of what to do with its vast stockpile of rusting, decommissioned war ships: sink them at sea.

The Portola Valley-based chiropractor and nutritionist is president of California Ships 2 Reefs, a group of devoted scuba divers, scientists and engineers whose avowed goal is to sink "20 ships in 20 years" off the California coast. If they succeed, the result will be an underwater playground of artificial reefs that would attract enough riotous marine life to make Jacques Cousteau jealous.

It may seem like a zany scheme, but Wong is dead serious. He's already been offered a decommissioned Navy submarine to sink, the USS Sailfish — he just has to convince state regulators to allow him do it. Last year, Wong founded the Northern California Oceans Foundation to reach out to 10 Northern California cities adjacent to the locations he's chosen for his first 10 offshore wrecks — one in Monterey Bay, four at Fort Bragg, three in Eureka and two near San Luis Obispo.

Mindful of the economic benefits of eco-tourism, the city of Eureka already has offered Wong's group two derelict fishing trawlers to sink, which he hopes to do by spring 2008.

California Ships 2 Reefs has yet to submit a formal application for the submarine or any other vessel because the group is still fundraising to acquire them.

Still, "we're way past the idea stage," said

Wong, who has convened a volunteer scientific committee and a permit working group to begin the process of sorting through the snarl of state and federal regulations he will have to comply with. With more than 10 agencies involved, from the U.S.EPA to the California Coastal Commission, the process can take up to five years and cost
$2 million or more to acquire, clean, prepare and sink a ship.

As daunting as it sounds, it was already accomplished by another group, the San Diego Oceans Foundation, in 2001. The nonprofit, which shares several members of its leadership with California Ships 2 Reefs, sought and obtained 11 permits from different state agencies to sink the Yukon, a Canadian destroyer escort, off San Diego. The sinking of the Yukon garnered was the first sign in decades that the state's defunct Artificial Reef Program could be revived.

Wong's passion for scuba diving developed along the seabeds of Monterey and elsewhere in Northern California in 1974. Two decades later, he was struck by a realization.

"I would always notice that every shipwreck that I've dived near in the Caribbean was teeming with marine life. When I came back to Monterey I had a startling wake-up call. The amount of fish I saw on the same sites I dove before was easily reduced by 50 to 80 percent."

Wong concluded that adding artificial reefs would enhance California's marine environment and attract scuba divers.

"It turns out that not only is it positive for marine life, in all likelihood it will also increase eco-tourism," he said.

Certain agencies, such as the Navy and the U.S. Maritime Administration, have responded positively to Wong's proposal on an economic basis. The government has donated old ships to be sunk off the Gulf Coast for decades. The Maritime Administration alone has 125 decommissioned ships to be scrapped and few U.S. scrap yards to send them to, said Shannon Russell, spokeswoman for the agency.

"We have to remove these ships and there's only a certain amount of capacity to dispose of them. Artificial reefing gives us another avenue to do that," she said.

In fact, the Maritime Administration is in the midst of arranging to have the Texas Clipper I, an old educational ship, sunk off the Gulf Coast this March. The agency will also donate $125 million to prepare the Hoyt S. Vandenburg, a former troop transporter, off the Florida Keys in relationship with a local nonprofit called Artificial Reefs of the Keys.

California's coastline is already littered with the husks of sunken fishing boats, pleasure boats and other vessels sunk over the years — some by accident and some on purpose. For official purposes, however, California has no reefing program.

The federal government will only turn a ship over to a state agency, not a group or an individual. As such, California Ships 2 Reefs is hard at work recruiting the California Department of Fish and Game to act as an administrative liaison throughout the permitting process.

Sonke Mastrup, deputy director of the agency, said his initial meetings with the group were promising.

"We certainly have an interest in it to some degree. We don't see the ships as significant habitat (for fish) but we see the economic value of it," said Mastrup. "We're willing to see if we can't make this work on a statewide basis."

Mastrup's agency is aiding California Ships 2 Reefs' efforts craft a piece of legislation that would re-activate the state's Artificial Reef Program, which was founded in the 1980s and primarily dumped rocks and rubble on the sea bed to augment fish habitat.

Environmental groups are less enthusiastic about the project's benefits to marine life. Scientific studies conflict on whether the sunken ships simply attract fish with the habitat they produce or actually promote the growth of adult fish populations over time. A study conducted in 2000 by scientists at several University of California campuses that explored the growth of marine life surrounding the state's decommissioned oil platforms could find no "sound scientific evidence" that they enhanced or reduced groups of fish or shellfish.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary spokeswoman Rachel Saunders attributed the loss in fish populations Wong observed while scuba diving to overfishing, not a lack of habitat that could be fixed with artificial reefs.

"There are plenty of habitat areas for fish to feed on," said Saunders.

Paradoxically, adding artificial reefs could also result in a fish kill, said Tim Eichenberg, regional director of the Ocean Conservancy.

"Once you've got something down there on the bottom that attracts fish, fishermen use that to catch fish — so you may actually be reducing the productivity of the oceans," he said.

Wong's proposal to place a submarine in the marine sanctuary would only succeed if he could prove there would be few negative short-term impacts to the local ecosystem, said Saunders.

"Our concerns would be any discharge associated with the vessel, seabed disturbance, how stable the vessel would be. We would have concerns about PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other contaminants," she said.

PCBs, asbestos, fuel oil, lead paint and other hazardous materials are found on many former military ships. The U.S. EPA adopted a new set of "best management practices" for preparing vessels in 2006; it identified each of these toxins and the best way to dispose of them. The EPA must now approve the clean-up job on every ship prior to sinking it.

The job is a meticulous one. For instance, even after PCB-containing cable insulation and electronics are removed from the ship, they can still lurk in the oil used to conduct electricity, according to the EPA.

In a way, increased environmental regulations have worked in Wong's favor. In 1994, the Toxic Substances Control Act put a moratorium on the popular U.S. Navy practice of exporting PCB-contaminated ships to India, Turkey and other foreign countries for scrapping. The move resulted in the present backlog of defunct World War II and Cold War-era vessels rusting at berth outposts across the country, waiting to be recycled.

A report prepared by the National Defense Research Institute for the U.S. Navy in 2001 demonstrated that after exporting them, reefing the ships was the second most economical way to dispose of them.

Wong now has his eye on the 75 mothballed vessels held by the U.S. Maritime Administration at a shipyard in Suisun Bay. Fifty of those vessels are scheduled for scrapping, said agency spokeswoman Russell.

The largest obstacle to making Wong's proposal a reality is funding. The San Diego Oceans Foundation was able to raise $2 million in private donations to purchase, tow, clean and sink the Yukon in 2001. That sort of money is hard to come by every year, said Mastrup of the Department of Fish and Game.

"If they want to sink a ship we don't really have a problem with that. But we're not going to spend that kind of money to sink ships," said Mastrup.

Wong said he hopes to have the Navy pay for the cleaning of the vessels they would donate to the state, the way it did for the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany before it was sunk off Pensacola in May 2006.

He's also hoping to persuade local hotels, city governments, corporations and scuba divers to help fund the project as direct beneficiaries.

"We're making headway in what we need to do. Do we know the exact details on what to do? No. But we have a vision," said Wong.