Northern California businessman says sinking a ship in the Monterey Bay will bring divers and dollars.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Hours after the HCMS Yukon came to rest 105 feet below the surface on the barren sand flats off San Diego’s Mission Beach in 2000, scuba divers reported seeing a school of perch swimming through the freshly-scuttled, 366-foot Canadian destroyer escort.
Five years later, the intentionally sunk vessel is encrusted in a blanket of colorful anemones and frilly white metridia. It’s full of ling cod, broomtail groupers, calico bass and dozens of other species of fish and invertebrates.
The crown jewel of San Diego’s “Wreck Alley” is also attracting another life form—underwater tourists (and their dollars). Since its transformation into a reef, the Yukon has become the site of 10,800 dives each year, including 6,000 by out-of-town divers.
Now a Redwood City chiropractor wants to duplicate the Yukon’s success in Northern California by intentionally sinking a decommissioned ship in the Monterey Bay.
According to Dr. Harry Wong, the project manager of Northern California Ships2Reefs, the venture is just in its formative stages.
“We’re going down to San Diego to dive the Yukon and meet with the San Diego Oceans Foundation and see what steps they took,” Wong says. “We’re going to learn the process.”
Wong paints a win-win portrait for the environment, divers and the business community.
“Most people are uninformed about the benefits of an artificial reef,” Wong says. “As soon as it’s sunk it becomes another habitat for fish, invertebrates and all kinds of other life. It vastly improves all other kinds of life.”
And, he says, a sunken-ship-turned-reef would be a major benefit to the Peninsula’s primary industry.
“Economically, it could be a huge boon for the city of Monterey,” Wong says. “If we add a world-class vessel to dive we’d have people flying in from all over the world. Plus, the wintertime is a time when tourism decreases. Winter is a great time to dive.”
Wong envisions scuttling a vessel similar to the Yukon and says the federal government is supportive of artificial reef projects.
“We’re looking for something roughly 350 feet long and 50 to 80 feet wide,” Wong says. “If you’re going to do something, do it big.”
In 2001, the US Navy and US Maritime Administration (MARAD) conducted a study to identify and evaluate options for the disposal of ships. The research considered four alternatives: long-term storage, domestic recycling, overseas recycling, and reefing (the sinking of ships to build artificial reefs).
According to Wong there are currently 400 ships that need to be disposed of. The federal government has allocated money to clean the vessels for artificial reefing.
“It costs roughly $2.5 million to clean something the size of the Yukon,” Wong says. “They get rid of all the chemicals, asbestos and PCBs. It has to be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency before it can be put in the water.”
Regardless of its hygiene, Wong understands that intentionally sinking 2,900 tons of metal into the Monterey Bay is bound to encounter a great deal of opposition because of the National Marine Sanctuary’s stringent environmental restrictions.
“We definitely face a few more obstacles than [the San Diego Oceans Foundation] did in terms of Sanctuary policy,” Wong admits.
In fact, current Sanctuary rules prohibit altering the seabed—which includes anything from building
a seawall below the
high-tide line to sinking a decommissioned ship some hundred feet off shore. So before Wong—or anyone else—would be allowed to sink a ship in the Monterey Bay, he would need to apply for a permit.
Although she is aware of Wong’s project, Rachel Saunders, a spokesperson for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, says she is hesitant to comment on the project until Wong and Northern California Ships2Reefs submit a proposal.
“What I can tell you is that we have a prohibition on disturbing the seabed and discharging matter or material into the Sanctuary,” Saunders says. “Needless to say, there are a variety of concerns.”
Nonetheless, there is a precedent. On June 10, 2002 the Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot US Navy Landing Ship, was sunk six miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The project, from conception to completion, took eight years and set the standard for artificial reef projects using mothballed military vessels.
“The studies which are forthcoming from the Spiegel Grove will have a big impact on our project,” Wong says. “Initial signs are very positive both environmentally and economically.”
If sinking a ship in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary proves to be impossible, Wong says he will find another place to create an artificial reef for scuba divers in Northern California.
“I would love to see it in Monterey, but it doesn’t have to be there,” Wong says. “We have our sights set on the entire Northern California coast. There’s a promising spot north of Bodega Bay as well.”
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA SHIPS2REEFS WILL MEET ON FEB. 4, 2006 AT THE ACTIVE LIFE MEDICAL CENTER, 1391 WOODSIDE RD., Suite 200, in REDWOOD CITY for an ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING that WILL INCLUDE PRESENTATIONS FROM DICK LONG, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE SAN DIEGO SEA FOUNDATION, AND JAY STRAITH OF CANADIAN ARTIFICIAL REEF CONSULTING. FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT WWW.DOCWONG.COM OR CALL 650-400-9887.