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.