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.