Artificial Reefs

Artificial reefs at Porteau Cove

Artificial reefs can be considered as any kind of man-made structures that are sunk underwater and are designed and built to minimize wave/wake action (such as a breakwater), block boat traffic, create waves for surfing, or to provide a ready-made reef for the attraction and growth of marine life where there is typically none or very little.

The creation of artificial reefs is not new - in fact the practice of creating these man-made structures has been in use for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Whether it was to block access and prevent attack by invaders, to trap invaders once they were close, or as an early form of aquaculture, they were developed long before the modern-day scuba divers discovered the amazing eco-system that they create.

Over the years, these man-made reefs have been created using all sorts of natural and synthetic objects, from rocks, mud and logs in the early days, to rubber tires, cement slabs and blocks, and de-commissioned warships in modern times.

Of course, the early reefs were used to create barriers trapping animals or humans on the inside or the outside.

But more typically, modern-day reefs are used to create brand new ecosystems and develop marine life in areas currently void of life, be it for either natural or man made reasons.

In fact, starting in November, 2015, an Annapolis Marine Life Survey was announced to help monitor the new marine life as it moves into or begins to grow on the Annapolis.

How Do Artificial Reefs Work?

With a flat, muddy or sandy bottom without any kind of hard, vertical surfaces such as rocks or purpose-sunk reefs, any type of nutrients just pass by in the currents, leaving the barren surface to remain, well, barren.

But place an obstruction in the area, and life changing, life creating even, events begin to unfold:

- The reef structure causes plankton and other micro-organisms to accumulate in the area rather than just float on by, and where there is food, larger organisms will begin to congregate

- Larvae from numerous types of marine life now have a surface to attach to, and larger marine life (there to enjoy the new food supply) have places to hide and to lay their eggs

- small invertebrates and filter feeders soon begin to grow and inhabit the area, attracting small fish and other marine life, which in turn attracts larger predators and even more marine life

- some artificial reef surfaces, such as iron based steel, also seem to provide 'steroid' type nutrients which help the marine life to grow bigger and faster than it typically would, thus creating a food source for all levels of the food chain, including humans

- before long, a small 'oasis' of life is created on and around this artificial wreck where before there was nothing but sand, mud and silt.

Advantages of Artificial Reefs

The advantages of creating artificial reefs have been studied and verified over many years.

Since this site is about scuba diving, we will mention the pertinent advantages of creating purpose-sunk artificial wrecks for scuba diving, which include"

- the creation of an 'oasis of life' which is a suitable habitat for marine life to begin, grow and flourish

- providing a safe laboratory in an otherwise natural environment for the study of marine life

- further enhance British Columbia's repuutation as a world class, award winning scuba diving destination

- with amazing scenery, many varieties of abundant marine life and colorful reefs comes scuba divers, amateur and professional photographers, journalists and magazine editors who are amazed by the color and variety of marine life in British Columbia, who then promote Diving in British Columbia, which attracts more and more divers and other visitors to our wonderful province, which in-turn provides for direct and indirect economic growth for our small tourism dependent communities as well as our larger cities throughout B.C.

- provides a safe, controlled environment for divers to learn how to properly and safely dive on wrecks (both natural and artificial wrecks) and obtain their Wreck Diver certification,

- and reduces the number of divers who visit our many other natural, historical wrecks which in turn helps to preserve them for others to enjoy well into the future.

Disdvantages of Artificial Reefs

The creation of artificial reefs, particularly through the sinking of large man-made structures such as former warships, is not without controversy.

Whether these people have valid environmental concerns or are just protesting for the sake of protesting without proof, trying to keep their small areas of marine paradise for themselves, or just against the idea of sinking ships has yet to be determined.

However, it should be noted that:

- although wrecks are typically sunk in areas where there is very little life, the ship does create a footprint which could in effect kill any life that may exist under the sand

- even though British Columbia's strong tides & currents would disburse the by-product of the micro-organisms that decompose the metal, the long-term effects of concentrating such a large, decomposing man-made structure in one area are not certain

- man-made objects typically use synthetic materials, some of which can be hazardous to the environment, such as hydrocarbons and chemical anti-algae treatments and paints, etc.

- and small groups of divers will visit areas where typically they wouldn't visit and temporarily moor their boats, and yes, scuba diving can be a risky sport and accidents may unfortunately happen.

However, when you look at all the work that is done ahead of time to properly create an artificial reef, it can and has been proven that the overall benefits greatly outweigh any potential costs.

And one such local organization, the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia, is a world leader in creating environmentally friendly, diver safe, and marine life-enhancing artificial reefs.

Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia

The Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia (ARSBC) was founded in 1986 by a group of divers and non-divers who recognized the need to re-establish fish habitat in certain areas, while helping to further develop and promote British Columbia as a world-class scuba diving destination.

The ARSBC is now a highly respected, registered non-profit society based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is designated as a registered tax-deductible charity in Canada.

Their mission is to create environmentally and economically sustainable "artificial reefs" in British Columbia and around the world for the enjoyment of Scuba Divers, and for the protection of environmentally and historically sensitive marine habitats.

"Of equal importance to us is the fact that your organization is working towards enhancing the marine environment using proven scientific and environmentally responsible methods of artificial reef development." - Jacques-Yves Cousteau, in a letter to the ARSBC in November, 1996.

Since 1991, the ARSBC has sunk 7 ships and one Boeing 737 in B.C. and has been enlisted to help sink numerous other vessels around the world.

The ARSBC has no paid employees and consists of a volunteer Board of seven Directors, and hundreds of volunteers from B.C., Alberta, and the north-west United States, who have all dedicated blood, sweat and tears to the various artificial reefs (us at Cooldives proudly included)!

The ARSBC creates and promotes artificial reefs for use by scuba divers from around the world as a means to:

- Promote economic activity in the vicinity of artificial reef sites;

- Promote the technologies and procedures required to establish safe and environmentally-friendly artificial reefs;

- Promote the use of artificial reefs as a means to minimize the impact of recreational scuba divers on historical wreck sites and other ecologically-sensitive dive sites;

- Monitor and study developments of all their artificial reefs for environmental impact and diver safety.

British Columbia Artificial Reefs

We are fortunate in British Columbia to have amazing scenery, nutrient rich waters, interesting and colorful marine life, and many natural and artificial reefs all within a very short distance to each other - great for Wreck Treks!

As with any wrecks and deep dives, they should not be attempted without proper training and certification.

There are risks involved, and wreck penetration should not be done without proper training and equipment.

Always plan your dive and dive your plan - dive safe!

PADO wreck courses and wreck charters to many BC natural and artificial wrecks can be arranged through GreenSea Diving.

While some of British Columbia's artificial reefs, such as the divers playground at Porteau Cove, the ship breakwater in Powell River and granite Ogden Point Breakwater in Victoria, and even the bronze mermaid sculpture near Powell River, were created without the assistance of the ARSBC, all of our major artificial shipwrecks were....

Motor Vessel G.B. Church

The G.B. Church

Type: Coastal Freighter

Size: 53 metres (175 feet)

Sink Date: August 11, 1991

Dive Depth: mast at 5 meters (15 feet), keel at about 27 meters (90 feet)

Location: Portland Island, near Sidney, southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia

GPS Coordinates: 48 43.323'N, 123 21.339'W

Book a G.B. Church Dive Charter

Obtain your Wreck Diver certification

The Chaudiere

The former HMCS Chaudiere

Type: Restigouche class Destroyer Escort

Size: 111 metres (366 feet), 2900 tons

Sink Date: December 5, 1992

Dive Depth: On her side with depths ranging from 50 feet at the highest point on the starboard stern to 140 feet at the deepest part of the port bow.

Location: Kunechin Point, Porpoise Bay near Sechelt, Sunshine Coast, British Columbia

GPS Coordinates: 49 37.694'N, 123 48.699'W

Book a Chaudiere Dive Charter

Obtain your Wreck Diver certification

The Mackenzie

The former HMCS Mackenzie

Type: Mackenzie class Destroyer Escort

Size: 111 metres (366 feet), 2900 tons

Sink Date: September 16, 1995

Dive Depth: The ship's keel lies in around 30 meters (90-100 feet), the radar tower stands in 10 meters (30-40 feet) and the upper deck at around 18 meters (55-65 feet).

Location: Gooch Island, near Sidney on Southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia

GPS Coordinates: 48 40.094'N, 123 17.170'W

Book a Mackenzie Dive Charter

Obtain your Wreck Diver certification

The Columbia

The former HMCS Columbia

Type: Restigouche class Destroyer Escort

Size: 111 metres (366 feet), 2900 tons

Sink Date: June 22, 1996

Dive Depth: Bow of the former warship now lies in 36 meters (120 feet) of water and the superstructure and wheelhouse are at 18 meters (60 feet).

Location: Maude Island, near Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

GPS Coordinates: 50 08.031'N, 125 20.152'W

Book a Columbia Dive Charter

Obtain your Wreck Diver certification

The Saskatchewan

The former HMCS Saskatchewan

Type: Mackenzie class Destroyer Escort

Size: 111 metres (366 feet), 2900 tons

Sink Date: June 14, 1997

Dive Depth: Situated between 12-40 meters (40 – 130 feet) of water.

Location: Snake Island, near Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

GPS Coordinates: 49 12.96'N, 123 53.070'W

Book a Saskatchewan Dive Charter

Obtain your Wreck Diver certification

The Cape Breton

The former HMCS Cape Breton

Type: World War II Victory Ship

Size: 134 metres (440 feet), 9500 tons

Sink Date: October 20, 2001

Dive Depth: Keel sits at 42 meters (140 feet) and the top of the deck is at about 20 meters (70 feet).

Location: Snake Island, near Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

GPS Coordinates: 49 12.88'N, 123 53.067'W

Book a Cape Breton Dive Charter

Obtain your Wreck Diver certification

The Xihwu Boeing 737

The Xihwu (pronounced key' quot)

Type: Former Boeing 737 Airplane

Size: 31 meters (101 feet)

Sink Date: January 14, 2006

Dive Depth: Situated on a base 5 meters (15 feet) above the sea bed which is sunk at about 30 meters (100 feet) below sea level.

Location: Near Chamainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

GPS Coordinates: 48 56.142'N, 123 43.130'W

Book a Chemainus 737 charter

Obtain your Wreck Diver certification

The Annapolis

Sinking of the Annapolis

The newest and perhaps most highly anticipated and exciting artificial reef, the former HMCS Annapolis, is now sitting on the bottom of Halkett Bay near Vancouver and is ready for diving.

The Annapolis artificial reef, is an 111 metre (371 foot), 2400 ton, former helicopter carrying destroyer that served from 1964 until she was retired in 1996 and then sold to the ARSBC in 2008.

Now instead of being sold for scrap metal, she will serve as a new home to hundreds of species of marine life as an artificial reef near Vancouver, British Columbia.

Annapolis boat charters can be booked for individuals or groups.

Contact Cooldives to help arrange a dive on one of British Columbia's artificial wrecks.

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Volunteering on the HMCS Annapolis