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.



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