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Washington Scuba Alliance Unveils Ongoing Improvement Projects

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Washington Scuba Alliance pursues many projects

Article by John Tapley; photos courtesy Jim Trask

Since 1992, the Washington Scuba Alliance (WSA) has been committed to empowering waterways throughout the Evergreen State with scuba explorers in mind. A non-profit organization made up of experts in the community, WSA is a group always on the go: encouraging divers to try out their cold water neighborhoods while improving and establishing local dive destinations.

WSA is working with many companies and agencies on the Redondo Reef – pictured Mike Racine and Jim trask

I spoke with WSA President Jim Trask about recent accomplishments in the first half of 2018, and a projection of what’s to come down the pipe. The organization’s ongoing plans include installing a reef system at Redondo Beach in Des Moines, Washington; a new dive destination off Ediz Hook in Port Angeles; and Alki Cove II off Seattle.

Redondo Artificial Reef

WSA worked with students from the University of Washington on the
design of the Redondo Reef – courtesy WSA

Jim: Since the beginning of the year, WSA has been doing all the paperwork and meetings needed to move forward on the Redondo Artificial Reef Project: we met with the Puyallup Tribe, the City of Des Moines, and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in late February/early March. The city is behind it 100 percent… it’s going to be a free lease for public usage and will not create any monetary needs for the State – similar to a wildlife trail.

John: The Redondo Artificial Reef Project is very much a community effort. Who else has joined the project?

Jim: We’ve worked closely with an agency on Saltwater State Park, a construction company who installed the reef, to get an idea of the cost. We’ve also worked with the University of Washington’s engineering design group to come up with ideas on what to put in.

John: What are some key features divers can look forward to at the Redondo reef?

Jim: We’re talking about a couple possible swim throughs using culverts. There will be vertical structure in the form of basalt rock pillars, which will be considered a tribute to the military: a concrete plaque denoting the six different military organizations and wars from WWI and forward. The rock piles… we’re working with the Marine Science and Technology Center (MaST) for different sizes of rocks at different depths [to attract] different types of sea life. On the science side of it, we’re installing an underwater camera to monitor the site for MaST.

John: There’s going to be a lot of science going into this project. Could you share a technique used by the MaST Center?

Jim: They’re beginning to do the transect surveys – lines that imitate the shoreline – which are required by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to show what sealife is under there right now; this information shows we aren’t affecting any endangered species.

John: WSA has received a lot of support from the MaST Center. How is the local dive community engaged in the Redondo project?

Many of the items from the old Redondo Reef are discarded materials
that need to be removed

Jim: In the beginning, feedback was both positive and negative. A lot of people said, “Not in my reef!” because of [objects] that exist right now: the boats, the Volkswagen, the jungle gym, the bathtub, and a lot of other junk in the water. They didn’t want us to pull it out.

As our meetings progressed, they started realizing stuff like the pipe boat was starting to dissolve and sink into the sand – once its gone, its gone. The Department of Natural Resources is aware of every item that’s down there and they want them out yesterday.

John: Do you have an estimated date for when the project will be complete?

Jim: We’re hoping to begin the process in the fall of 2019 because we have to wait a whole year for the transect surveys. We’re working with Environmental Science Associates to make sure our permitting is done properly. As soon as this project’s done we’re moving to Port Angeles. From here on, every reef will be streamlined and modeled after Redondo.

Ediz Hook

John: Tell me about the Port Angeles project.

Jim: Port Angeles has an existing dive site instead of the harbor off Ediz Hook but it’s inside a Coast Guard security area. If anyone wants to dive that site – and it can only be dove by boat – they have to set up arrangements. Since then, the Navy has decided to put in a dock for two of their boats, which is close to the existing rock pile; and security won’t allow it to be dove.

The City of Port Angeles has given a piece of property to be used as a dive park – outside of the Coast Guard station. The city is in the process of removing beach armoring and other items from the inside of Ediz Hook: securing a large amount of rock that be used as an artificial reef within this new park. The Lower Elwha and Samish Tribes are also supporting this project.

John: Why will that particular site appealing for scuba divers?

Jim: The site the city gave us has bathrooms, and easy parking and beach access. You’ll be able to park your car, gear up, and have a nice, safe dive inside the harbor… take your gear off, go to the bathroom, and go home. It’s easy and convenient, and something new for a lot of divers who don’t have access to a boat to dive the rock pile. We’ll make it as interesting as possible – maybe work with a tribe to get an art feature installed.

Alki Cove II

John: Alki Cove has been one of Seattle’s favorites for many years. What are WSA’s plans for it?

Jim: What’s there right now has almost literally melted into the mud. The Honey Bear was an old barge and its structure is almost gone… the last time I dove it, it was just like kelp fronds moving with the current. A steel dolphin had a number of girders attached to each other and there’s only one left standing.

At Cove II, we have a wonderful border area we’ve maintained to keep people away from the water taxi. We’re going to add quarry rock: putting in rock piles at various depths similar to what we’re going to do at Redondo: smaller rocks in, larger rocks deeper. Alki Cove is known for its octopus so we’re probably going to add dens specifically built for them. We also want to add shore features like stairs to make it easier to get in: Alki Cove II can be a hassle for inexperienced or older divers.

It’s not written in concrete. We don’t want to start the project until we get public input on what they want to see there. After the public forums we’ll know what they want and will move forward. We’re keeping the dialogue moving.

For more information on WSA, including membership details, visit www.wascuba.com .

Divers As First Responders to Reefs in Crisis

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Divers are often First Responders for the environment.

By Samantha Whitcraft,
Director of Conservation & Outreach, Sea of Change Foundation

Early last year, I had the opportunity to dive in Raja Ampat, Indonesia for the first time. As a biologist, it was a bucket list destination for me as much as the Galapagos had been. Raja Ampat, as part of the Coral Triangle, is at the center of global marine biodiversity. When I finally jumped in for my first dive there, I was overwhelmed by the number of different corals and fish species, and the health of the reef overall. I saw little evidence of bleaching or disease, though sadly plenty of plastic garbage floating in the water column. My favorite dive site was Cape Kri, world-famous with divers for its mix of large, schooling fish and record- breaking numbers of fish species.

Only a week after I returned from diving that nearly pristine ecosystem, on March 4, 2017, the 4,290-tonne Caledonian Sky cruise ship grounded near Cape Kri and damaged or destroyed approximately 1,600 square meters of some of the most biodiverse and healthy coral reef habitat in the world. As awful as the news was, I knew that some of the corals could still be saved by local divers who know the area best. After a catastrophic reef damaging event like that, there are pro-active steps divers can take. For example, larger corals that have been flipped can be righted so that the surviving polyps (and their symbiotic algae) can still photosynthesize and thus have a better chance to recover. Divers can also collect living fragments – with the appropriate permits or permissions – for growing and later out-planting. Additionally, and as importantly, divers can assess the damage early by measuring the area of damaged coral and taking photographs. This information can help with getting fair recompense from the company guilty of causing the damage, which in turn, can be used for more coral restoration and recovery.

A month after diving in Raja Ampat, I visited the Sea of Change Foundation’s Cayman Islands Coral Nurseries project where feedback from dive operators and our partners confirmed that they have, in the past, had opportunities for such response to coral-damaging anchor drops but lacked the funding to do so. These events solidified my resolve, as part of the Sea of Change Foundation team to help create a fund dedicated to helping enable divers to serve as first responders to such incidents; the Reef Rescue and Rapid Response Grants.

The new fund provides for mini- grants that range from $500 to a maximum of $5000 to respond to anchor drops, vessel groundings, oil spills, hurricane damage, and other localized, acute impacts to coral reefs. The grants will support divers, and their communities to cover immediate costs such as boat fuel, staff time, video cameras, lift- bags, transect tapes, and handheld GPS units. To promote expediency, the required application is only 1-page that describes the date and cause of the incident and the planned response. And to begin the short application process, divers need only send an initial email inquiry to info@seaofchange.com to request the funds.

It is the hope of the Board of Directors of the Sea of Change Foundation as leaders in the dive industry, that this new fund and the grants it provides will help enable the global dive community to act as first-responders to reef damaging incidents. The reefs are where we dive, and often they are why we dive; it is our duty to do all that we can to help protect them, and we hope divers everywhere will support and make use of this new fund. Importantly, “through the Foundation, 100% of donations go directly to such conservation initiatives around the world to ensure future generations of divers can also experience healthy coral reefs,” said Wayne Brown, CEO of Aggressor Fleet® and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Foundation.

About Sea of Change

The Sea of Change Foundation funds marine conservation and research initiatives that directly impact the oceans we all love to dive and explore. Their mission is to create positive change for the oceans. Learn more about the Sea of Change Foundation and how you can help make a positive change for our oceans, www.seaofchange.com /, or email thankyou@seaofchange.com .

30th Anniversary Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

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Volunteers-man-booths-at-Salish-Sea-Conference-1

Editorial and Photos By Roy Mulder 

Seattle hosted the 30th Annual Salish Sea Conference, a trans-boundary initiative to focus on the Salish Sea that is shared by Canada and the United States. This conference respects that the ocean knows no borders and that conservation requires a combined effort on both sides of our modern borders. This conference also respects the indigenous peoples who inhabited this area historically. Long before the settlers arrived, this part of the Pacific Northwest held a thriving ocean. 

The Salish Sea is the unified bi- national ecosystem that includes Washington State’s Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands, as well as British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. The name recognizes and pays tribute to the first inhabitants of the region: the Coast Salish. 

Much of the conference focused on areas that are being returned to a more historically natural state. The mix of marine conservation groups and scientists in the same sessions leans itself to cooperation. Using science, conservation groups are able to implement programs that help restore environmental health. It is clear that past use has had a severe impact on the Salish Sea’s health. 

One of the cross border concerns of the participants is the state of the southern resident orcas. The concerns seemed split between the existing and potential increased shipping in the area inhabited by this pod. The other grave concern is the reduced numbers of Chinook salmon, which provide their sole food source. It is clear that there is no easy solution to maintaining a pod of less than one hundred orcas. Unfortunately humans are also competing for this food source and measures will be required to provide adequate stocks for both humans and the orcas. In recent history, the mortality rate of newborns has been poor and most of the newborns have been males. Through scientific examination we also know that these orcas have some of the highest concentrations of PVCs of any animals on our coast. We have to examine the role humans have played in this population, which was originally decimated by harvest by humans for captive viewing. Most attendees showed a true concern to see what can be done to ensure that the southern residents can survive. There seemed to be some delegates who considered them a lost cause, and theorized that they would eventually be replaced by northern resident orcas. Anecdotally it seemed that the majority were in favour of doing all that is possible to keep the southern residents alive. 

One of the divergent topics at the conference concerned the salmon farming industry. Washington recently has taken action to see that their fish farms are all land based and that no fish farms will be in the open ocean. A large escape in the fall spurred conversation in Washington and they moved swiftly in their decision to eliminate open net cage salmon from their waters. Canada still has around 80 active fish farms and is still debating moving farms out of the ocean. This goes contrary to recommendations by the Cohen Commission, which recommends getting them out of the open ocean. There still seems to be a debate about the risk of a piscine reovirus, yet the Canadian government is still not acknowledging that this risk exists. As many of the leases are up for renewal, this would be a very good time to consider moving the farms out of the ocean.. It seems that the scientific community is in favour of getting the farms out, while the political will seems to want them to remain in Canadian waters. It remains to be seen how this policy difference will affect relations between our two countries. 

There were some success stories like the removal of the Elwha Dam. The removal of the dam will now allow for salmon stocks to replenish and will see the restoration of an entire watershed. This may be a good example of the direction that science is leading the ability of conservation groups to work towards improving fish stock health. Initially it will take a while for habitat conditions to return to the point where fish stocks will replenish, it seems a reasonable assumption that salmon stocks will be able to once again inhabit the river. 

Other areas where conservation is moving forward is in the removal of old creosote dock pilings that have been used for foreshore protections (referred to as armoring) and other uses. Once again citizen- based initiatives in partnership with academics has yielded results in the restoration of natural shorelines. The theme of citizen science seems to be an ever-growing movement and beneficial relationships between academics and concerned citizens are moving many efforts forward. 

Anecdotally there seemed to be a much larger contingent of U.S. participants at the conference than Canadians. It seemed like the U.S. although guardedly optimistic with recent political changes, is still moving ahead with many positive 

marine initiatives. Much of this is driven by indigenous and grass roots initiatives. Although Canada is moving forward with more political will than the previous government, it is still lagging behind the U.S. with active ocean programming. Hopefully the Department of Fisheries recent bout of hiring and changes to the Canadian Fisheries Act, will see Canada playing a greater role in marine conservation. 

As this is an article in a diver magazine it is important to acknowledge the role of divers in science and marine conservation. A vast number of the initiatives at the conference were dependent on divers to collect the critical data to make the right decisions. Divers still remain to be one of the best ways to observe in situ and contribute knowledge. That said, there were some incredibly sophisticated technologies on display at the conference. The ability to monitor ocean acoustics and create maps has never been better. Using in water hydrophones we can study everything from whale movements to ship’s noise. 

The conference did a good job of holding sessions on communications that allow for a clearer message to get out effectively. As Seattle is a technology oriented city, the conference drew some cutting edge communicators who shared their wisdom. One of the observations of the attendees was that although there are some very successful high tech companies, they don’t seem to contribute back to the local marine conservation community. Given that a vast number of conservationists use these technologies every day, perhaps it is time we asked why these tech companies aren’t giving back. Many of the conservation initiatives suffer from the ability to garner sustainable funding to be effective. The bands and tribes of the first peoples of the Salish Sea Conference provided the backbone of the conference. Their stories and historic information are a critical part of the overall marine view. Their very culture is dependent on the marine life. In the words of Billy Frank Jr. “As the salmon disappear so do our tribal cultures and treaty rights. We are at a crossroads and we are running out of time”. These words embody how important marine issues are to the original people of an area they always viewed as one, the Salish Sea. Representatives of both sides of the border provided wonderful stories and expressed their desire to unify both sides of the border to work on increasing marine health. 

In summary the Salish Sea Conference demonstrated how cooperation across cultures and borders can move efforts forward. It was a pleasure to see that much is being done and that efforts are continuing to maintain and increase the marine health of the Salish Sea. 

History in the Making: Palm Beach County Welcomes the USS Clamagore as an Artificial Reef

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CLAM NEEDS HELP

By Selene Muldowney and John Tapley

The boat sped through the ocean like a bullet ripping through the air, the sailor’s heartbeat thumping rhythmically as he held his position. The sounds deafening his ears, he imagined he was outside looking in. He saw the boat soaring through the water; the intricacies of hull, every curve, became visible to him. His thoughts wandered briefly as he realized he was standing inside a metal bullet below the crushing weight of the ocean waves; his fears, his dreams, his thoughts abruptly halted as the sirens blared.

One moment the dark stillness of the ocean lay before the world, the next, amid the foam of the waves cascading gently on their mistress, plowing through the sea toward the jetty, the water cascading down her long and sleek body and making no sound, the submarine emerged. Three hundred twenty-two feet long and completely windowless, this massive structure filled with people and technology, fully armed and ready for battle, was born from the sea with the speed and agility of impossibility, almost an illusion.

The boat (a submarine is never a “ship”) was commissioned on June 28, 1945 and given her name, USS Clamagore (SS-343).  Built for the US Navy, she was still in training when World War II ended in 1945. Clamagore was decommissioned on June 12, 1975 and was struck on June 27, 1975 after having served in the Navy for 30 years. She was donated as a museum on August 6, 1979 to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, located near Charleston, South Carolina and has served in her role since then. 

Commissioned in 1945, the U.S.S. Clamagore was one of 120 Balao-class diesel electric submarines built during WWII. She went on to serve the United States for 30 more years as a shadow hunter and training vessel during the Cold War, earning the moniker “The Gray Ghost of the Florida Coast.”  She was modified twice during her tenure and may be the sole surviving example as a GUPPY type submarine. Her years of combined service from active duty to serving as a museum have taken a toll on her, the salt water has degraded the metal used on her hull exposing her to further erosion and the possibility of hazardous materials leaching into the water or worse yet – hull failure and sinking. 

On January 10, 2017, the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve funding to the tune of $1 million for coordinating the sinking of the USS Clamagore. Funds were garnered from a country trust fund, which was generated from vessel registration fees. The funds will go to a private, Miami-based firm: Artificial Reefs International-USS Clamagore (ARI), which will deploy the 320-foot vessel at a proposed site about three miles from the Juno Beach Pier in about 95 feet of water. The project is currently slated for summer of 2018, and fundraising is reportedly halfway completed. Joe Weatherby leads ARI, has worked in deploying artificial reefs for more than 25 years. He is working with ARI –USS Clamagore CEO Fred Baddour, an experienced ship sinker and owner of a successful privately held environmental cleanup company, CRB Geological and Environmental Services (CRB), in Miami.

ARI team members have been responsible for some of the most successful reefs in the world, including the USNS Vandenberg and USS Mohawk in Florida. In addition, ARI will also fund the remaining balance of the project – through sponsorship programs and other sources – which is estimated around $2 million. 

The project is a joint effort between Palm Beach County and Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management to enhance the county’s already robust artificial reef offerings, which have served as crucial tourism opportunities since the ’60s. To date the County has over 157 artificial reefs, 56 of those being ships and barges.  As a result, Palm Beach County has enjoyed a vast array of artificial structures for fish to inhabit and for divers to enjoy.

Julie Bishop, Environmental Program Supervisor at Palm Beach County/Project Coordinator for the Clamagore project shares her thoughts on this unique mission:

“The USS Clamagore will be a one of a kind diving opportunity that provides valuable habitat for our marine species while serving as a memorial for those submarine veterans who served for our country and those lost at sea. Palm Beach County is excited to create this unique underwater memorial and hopes to add an upland museum for everyone to enjoy.”

Besides the reefing, Palm Beach County is looking to establish a land-based component to shed light on the Clamagore’s past and present.

“The submarine is a historic vessel and her Florida history is an important one. This is an opportunity to save this vessel from the scrap yard and preserve her legacy in several ways, by honoring her historical past as a US Naval boat and honoring the sailors who served on her. Placing her underwater will give her an enduring role to play in conservation, recreation and commerce, continuing to contribute to Floridians – that is a much better end to this fine boat,” states Weatherby.

Media will also play a large role in getting visitors and locals electrified for the new site. The Palm Beach County Film & Television Commission is sponsoring a 30-minute documentary, which will be distributed on TV.

“The Film Commission is sending out a RFP (request for proposals) to create a high-quality video to showcase not only the history of the vessel, but also its journey to The Palm Beaches,” explains Palm Beach County Film Commissioner Chuck Elderd. “The film would eventually be part of the shore side museum component being planned as way of preserving the history and legacy of the submarine.”

On October 16, 2017, lifestyle brand Salt Life announced they are partnering on this project. Beginning in early 2018 the USS Clamagore will undergo intensive cleaning processes, Under the supervision of CRB, to ensure she is environmentally sound. She will need to be demilitarized and have any potentially hazardous materials removed and cleaned. The plans include removal of portions of the hull in order to create an underwater museum. Once established, the Clamagore will serve as an artificial reef providing food, shelter, and protection for marine life, as well as provide recreational opportunities for scuba divers and anglers.

In order to assist in the funding as well as commemorate Clamagore’s final mission, Salt Life has announced the sale of limited edition commemorative tees with net proceeds supporting the USS Clamagore Artificial Reef Project. 

Salt Life President Jeff Stillwell believes the project is beneficial not only as a positive environmental opportunity but also a tribute to honor the boat’s history:

“Salt Life is proud to be part of such a historic and important project, not only do artificial reefs allow an entire ecosystem to flourish on the ocean floor, but they also offer endless opportunities for divers, anglers, and all who enjoy the ‘Salt Life.’ The Clamagore project is going to have a tremendous positive impact on the local economy by bringing more eco-tourism to The Palm Beaches. We hope the Clamagore reef will become a pilgrimage for divers for years to come.”

About Artificial Reefs International-USS Clamagore:

ARI team members bring more than 25 years of experience in artificial reefing. ARI also has experience in marine conservation, scuba diving, angling, and boating. ARI reefs are carefully designed to provide long-term benefits for marine conservation and economic interests.  ARI deploys only reefs that are cleaned to exacting standards for compliance with state and federal environmental guidelines. Learn more at www.arireefs.com

About Salt Life:

Salt Life is an authentic, aspirational and lifestyle brand that embraces those who love the ocean and everything associated with living the “Salt Life”. Founded in 2003 by four avid watermen from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, the Salt Life brand has widespread appeal with ocean enthusiasts worldwide. From fishing, diving and surfing, to beach fun and sun-soaked relaxation, the Salt Life brand says, “I live the Salt Life”. From its first merchandise offerings in 2006, Salt Life has grown to more than $30 million in annual sales, with distribution in surf shops, specialty stores, department stores and sporting goods retailers. 

Find your Salt Life at www.saltlife.com.

Project details can be found at www.clamagorereef.com.

Want to help make history? Purchase your Clamagore T-Shirt and find your Salt Life!

http://www.saltlife.com/uss-clamagore-commemorative-tee-slm19010.html

Cultivating Life and Developing Ecotourism with Grand Cayman Eco Divers

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coral-nursery gardens become reefs

By Selene Muldowney

Often nicknamed the “rainforest of the sea” coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. There may be more than one million species inhabiting the coral reefs around the world. In many ways, they are akin to the rainforests, where many of the inhabitants have yet to be discovered. Unfortunately, coral reefs as we know them are dying and sadly their inhabitants are losing their homes. These fragile, yet vital ecosystems are under siege from a vast array of assailants including localized pollutants, global warming, invasive species, human carelessness, ocean acidification, and other aggressors. While many human inhabitants of our planet have been slow to respond to the problem or creating a mechanism of protecting these ecosystems, hope is within site: Grand Cayman.

As a region, the Cayman Islands are already well ahead of other countries, regions, and nations around the globe, with initiatives ranging from fixed moorings to marine parks to seasonal and limited fishing. To add to the list of the measures to protect marine life already taken, the Grand Cayman Eco Divers, in collaboration with Sunset House, Ocean Frontiers, Divetech, Central Caribbean Marine Institue (CCMI), Cayman Brac Shack, and the Riviera are working to build sustainable coral tree nurseries.  All this done under the guidance and watchful eye of the C.I. Department of Environment. 

Collectively, the mission of this ambitious group of environmentalists, biologists, and citizen scientists is to help accelerate the recovery and growth of existing coral reef structures. The project began as an idea over five years ago and through a series of discussions with different organizations and businesses, local government, and experimenting with the growth of the coral, the program has developed, been approved, and now grown to a more robust endeavor. 

Already the initiative has shown success in growing coral trees in nurseries. Collectively, each affiliate has started a coral tree nursery and actively participates in maintaining the nurseries and transplanting viable coral fragments onto critical reefs and ecosystems. 

Aaron Hunt, from Grand Cayman Eco Divers, has developed effective strategies for protecting and restoring the damaged areas of coral reef.  In short, they are growing Staghorn coral in nurseries on coral trees made from PVC and fiberglass rods and after significant growth, they are removed from the trees and replanted. Hunt explains, “The methodology is fairly new, much of what we do is through trial and error although about 15 years ago this same method was first attempted. In some areas, we have seen a 99% success rate from moving the coral onto the nursery tree which in itself is incredible and then to see some sites experience 100% growth after transplant is almost unfathomable.” The aim is to spread the coral along damaged sites to encourage new growth and maximize recovery. “This is done carefully and with incredible care so as not to damage healthy coral, “states Hunt. He also hopes that by replanting new corals in close proximity to one another they will create genetic diversity leading to healthier and stronger coral in the future. 

The process of collecting the coral and transplanting them has been greatly assisted by the Coral Restoration Foundation for their assistance in developing the coral trees as well as the Sea of Change Foundation for their knowledge and financial assistance. The project required not only skilled coral removal, maintenance, and transplant knowledge but also protection from carelessness and harvesting for a profit.  The coral nurseries require a substantial effort to be successful. 

The Grand Cayman Eco Divers are seeking to expand the current Coral Nursery Program to include data collection, research, and educational programs. The research would aid in long term restoration efforts by providing key information on the survivability of the coral fragments, which coral genes are resistant to disease or bounce back quickly, how coral adapts to climate change issues and pressures, and locating any unique new species of coral. The educational program is open to applicants both national and international whose interest is in learning about and participating in the Coral Nursery Program. The program will provide international students with an all-inclusive stay at the local resorts Sunset House and Divetech as well as affordable island lodging.  The educational program is offered as: a one week program, 2-week program, 4-week program, and a 6-week summertime program.

“The collaborative efforts of research combined with an educational component benefits the Island’s efforts in conservation while also enabling other organizations from around the globe to start their own restoration programs,” emphasizes Hunt. 

The program also enables the growth of ecotourism on the Cayman Islands. Divers, non-divers can take an open water class and learn to dive while attending the program, can take part in an opportunity to directly and positively assist with conservation of the coral reefs. 

“We have had people from 25 to 71 years old and from all levels of education participate in the program. They learn step-by-step the restoration process, in hopes to educate others. We hope the students and conservationists from around the globe see the results because of their hard work and carry that urgency to help conservation efforts within them. In the past few months we have encouraged locals to also participate so they too can appreciate the efforts made to create a sustainable reef,” continues Hunt. 

Grand Cayman Eco Divers is an environmentally responsible dive company whose owners, Brittany Balli and Aaron Hunt, know first-hand the importance of conservation from their extensive background in marine biology. They are both also well versed in Cayman’s incredible shipwreck history. 

It is important that we take heed to the changing climate of our globe and the significant effects humankind as well as nature has bestowed upon us both topside and underwater. The coral reefs serve as both a foothold of tourism on the islands but also a measure of the health of the marine Biosystems underwater. Cayman’s dive industry as well as their tourism industry and government recognize the economic value of the coral reefs as well as the importance of maintaining biodiversity for a sustainable marine future. It is absolutely vital to support healthy coral reefs now faced with multiple threats. This innovative approach may mark a new era in conservation with collaborative efforts from business, government, and citizens. 

New Venture: Coming Soon to Gulf Shores

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New Venture underway for last time

By Andrew Pierzchala and John Tapley

Although Alabama has one of the smallest coastlines of any coastal state, it enjoys one of the best, most dynamic artificial reef programs in the country. Replacing breadth with depth, the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation (AGCRRF) has made it their mission to sink artificial wrecks along the Alabama coast, particularly off Orange Beach, and is excited to announce its latest upcoming endeavor: the sinking of the New Venture.

Slated to be sunk before the new year (tentatively in November), the 250-foot former surveying vessel will be deployed roughly 20 miles wouth of Orange Beach within 120 feet of water. With its top projected to be some 50 to 60 feet below the surface, this will be a multi-level destination, making it an enticing draw for scuba explorers of all skill levels, and a useful habitat for a wide range of sea flora and fauna. As an added benefit, the vessel has been meticulously cleaned and drilled, allowing for safe installation and better viewing experiences.

“It’ll be a great wreck for transitioning from open water to more advanced diving because it has a pretty good platform, the top of the wheelhouse, at around 55 to 60-foot depth,” says Captain Gary Emerson, board member of the AGCRRF and owner of local chartering company Gary’s Gulf Divers. “They can get their bearings and camera worked out.”

“Divers love the habitat value and [have] grown interest in it,” adds Artificial Reef Coordinator for the Alabama Marine Resources Division Craig Newton. “Because this ship has a lot higher sides than most cargo ships, it will offer more dive profile than similar wrecks. It has more decks than a typical ship. We’re excited about it and the dive possibilities for a variety of levels of divers.”

New Venturewill be deployed near one of the AGCRRF’s most important projects to date: The LuLu, which has become one of the region’s most treasured dive spots. By installing an additional artificial reef, locals hope to magnify the appeal of Alabama’s dive tourism.

Chandra Wright, a dive enthusiast and ecotourism specialist with the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, and secretary for the AGCRRF is looking forward to these developments – if they build it, divers will be sure to follow.

“Right now, our dive shops are running trips to The LuLu and making two dives on the same ship,” she says. “By having a second ship, you do one dive on The LuLu and come back and dive New Venture on the same trip.”

“Another perspective on that is as we get more operators running dive trips,” she continues, “if the Down Under (dive shop) is tied up to one of them, the other operator can unload their divers on the other shipwreck. And then at some point, they can swap.”

But it’s not just divers and tourism boards who will benefit from the sinking of a new reef. The environment itself, harmed by human intervention, will receive a much-needed boost. Sea turtles, Gulf fish species, and crabs aplenty will find a new home within the New Venture, facilitating future growth and restoration. Thanks to the efforts of the AGCRRF and like-minded local groups, Orange Beach will have another addition to its robust assortment.

For ongoing information concerning the sinking of the New Venture, along with the AGCRRF’s overall goals, visit www.alabamagulfcoastreef.org. And look forward to an upcoming profile on diving Orange Beach’s newest gem in an upcoming edition of Scuba H2O Adventure Magazine.

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