By John Tapley
Keeping with its mission to preserve and protect bodies of water throughout Washington State, and install and maintain dive destinations for generations to enjoy, Washington Scuba Alliance (WSA) has been hard at work on one of its most ambitious projects to date: installing a new artificial reef structure off Redondo Beach in Des Moines. Although artificial reef deployment and maintenance has been a core feature of the organization for many years, the Redondo project also marks a significant step toward sharing the benefits of diving with Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR): an alliance, which has been decades in the making.
Washington State has a plethora of scuba diving destinations, particularly in southern Puget Sound, though most are off the beaten path and have been catalogued and established by the local dive community. And while these sites exemplify the spirit of local diving, without an official designation, they are subject to change at any moment. By obtaining a lease through the city of Des Moines, WSA and its partners will not only keep the site open to the public, but will safeguard it from future public and private developments.
“The State doesn’t recognize it as a dive site: at any time they could make it a water taxi destination and destroy any thoughts of wanting divers in there,” states WSA President Jim Trask. “We wanted to encourage the State to give us a lease on this property and other sites that aren’t recognized by Washington. That way, if someone wants to make the site into a geoduck farm or oyster bed, the lease will state it is our property.”
Beyond its pull as a dive destination, the proposed Redondo Beach project would also garner significant benefits to the local ecosystem. Where there is a complex variety of submerged structure, there is sea life, and the project offers housing for creatures big and small – even taking in larger wandering critters like lingcod. As an added plus, the beach’s closeness to Highline College’s Marine Science & Technology (MaST) Center, would give marine biologists and researchers an extra opportunity to observe sea life in motion.
According to MaST manager Rus Higley, who is contributing his scientific expertise toward the project, a range of undersea homes at Redondo is a winning move for the environment:
“From the diver perspective, Redondo is known for lots of little critters: macro photography is popular there: looking for grunt sculpin; red octopus; sailfin; chiton. You don’t go there to see a lot of big lingcod. [But] you want both: if you only have homes for big fish and none for little fish, it’s hard to get big fish: you need elementary school and high school before college.”
Located just 15 minutes south of the Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma) airport in Des Moines, Washington, Redondo Beach has been a favorite local diving hangout for decades. According to Higley, the beach is a prominent scuba diving locale, not just for local scuba aficionados, but for divers from out of state as well.
“It’s an easy entry – a couple entries – and it has a reasonable amount of parking and structure for diving,” says Higley. “Open water and advanced classes can do it, and it’s relatively low current. You can also do instructor training and advanced skills – you can get down to 100 feet in depth. It’s a convenient site in South King County.”
“It’s a small community in terms of who uses it, but we regularly see classes from Idaho, Eastern Washington, Spokane, and Portland who come here for open water diving,” he continues. “There’s a core [of local divers], but a wide range [of visitors].”
Another beloved feature of Redondo Beach is in its submerged attractions, which were placed by local divers in decades past, in order to add flavor to the experience. Ranging from a VW Bug to small boats to an oven, in various states of conditions, these features have been, for scuba divers, monuments of the local dive community and its accomplishments. Cherished as they are, however, according to Higley, DNR lists them as harmful marine debris: removing these structures is, as Higley expresses, “on their radar.”
Redondo Beach’s submerged spectacles were a hot topic at a public meeting hosted at the MaST Center on Wednesday, October 18. WSA, individuals, and groups including local dive businesses met for an evening of discourse to address current and future concerns. Overall, the exchange was pleasant, though opinions were mixed.
“There were preconceived notions – ‘not in my backyard’ – where they didn’t want to see changes to their dive site whatsoever,” Trask explains. “Some said, ‘No way in hell!’; some said, ‘It makes sense. We can support this kind of improvement.’”
Artificial reef development is a lengthy process, which requires the utmost attention to every detail from all involved parties, and from there spring manifold questions: variables and paths to consider before making a final decision.
Higley elaborates on just some of these important queries:
“How big is the reef? How tall are the rock piles? What kind of rock are they built with? Where are they exactly placed? If we remove what DNR calls debris – the divers call it an artificial reef – we could get an effect from the divers’ perspective: a short-term loss. Could we put in a new reef and remove the debris? Can we create appropriate artificial reefs by state mandates that divers accept?”
While WSA’s Redondo Beach reef project is far from being finalized, it has already offered WSA and DNR a bridge to better prospects in the future, and a stronger relationship between the two groups – who haven’t always met eye to eye.
“We’re using Redondo as our site to make a stand: it will give us a foundation for [future] locations,” says Trask. “If we can get DNR to get past this, we’ll have a precedent: ‘This is how it’s done. All you guys need to do is sign off on it.’ The partnership is real, and will sustain itself: it shows a good conservation effort on the State and WSA.”
Looking ever forward, WSA, in partnership with DNR, is conducting further public forums, in which the community can express their opinions on this important topic. Open conversations will be hosted at the MaST Center on November 9 and 29, and December 5 at 7 p.m. More information on the MaST Center can be found at https://mast.highline.edu.
Washington Scuba Alliance (WSA) is committed to working with officials of State, County, City, and Local Departments, and volunteer divers to establish a series of underwater parks that divers and snorkelers may enjoy. Underwater preserves will help prevent the loss of marine biodiversity by creating “safe havens” for all marine life.
WSA strives to create a unified group of divers, as dive clubs, dive stores, and charter operators who work together on projects. These projects make our waters a better place for its inhabitants to live and for divers to visit.
For more information on WSA, including membership details, visit www.wsscuba.org .