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
- 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.