Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wreck Of The Annapolis

HMCS Annapolis
In 2007 the former HMCS Annapolis, a Canadian Navy helicopter destroyer,was acquired by the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia for the purpose of making it into an artificial reef in the waters of Halkett Bay Marine Park off Gambier Island in Howe Sound.  The society has been in existence since 1989 and have basically written the book on preparing and sinking ships to become artificial reefs. The hurdles they have faced over the years including legal challenges, environmental roadblocks, and financial obstacles would have made most people weep, but the society has persevered and can now point to 6 ships and one airplane that have been successfully placed in accessible dive sites in and around Georgia Strait.

Artificial Reef Sites in Georgia Strait
Each of these dive sites has proven to be a considerable boon to local tourism with divers coming from around the world to explore these decommissioned navy ships, and they have also been a boon to the ocean ecology by providing a reef for sea life to get established.  The preparation that goes into making a ship safe for scuba diving and sea life takes years.  Holes need to be cut into every compartment to prevent divers from being trapped by only one exit and any materials, like fuel products or wiring, that may pose a threat to the environment, have to be stripped out and removed.  Once that's all been completed, to the satisfaction of appropriate government agencies, the ship is towed to where it will be sunk and, a spectacular controlled sinking by explosives then takes place.

1997 sinking of the HMCS Saskatchewan in Nanaimo

Unfortunately for Vancouver area divers none of these artificial reefs are in our own back yard and it means a trip to either Sechelt, Campbell River, Nanaimo, or Sidney if you want to do some serious wreck diving. The sinking of the Annapolis in Howe Sound would change all of that but a determined group of home owners on Gambier Island have spent the past few years waging a campaign of misinformation to thwart this initiative in a very nasty display of nimbyism under the banner of "". Considering the homes around Halkett Bay pose more of a threat to the Marine Park than any underwater reef, perhaps it would be more appropriate to start a campaign to have them removed rather than worry about a new dive site.

Plumose and other invertebrates colonizing the HMCS Saskatechewan
The oceans of the world in general and the B.C. coastline in particular, are littered with shipwrecks that went down with all sorts of materials that are toxic to the environment, and life continued on.  In fact just down the road from Halkett Bay is a decommissioned B.C. ferry tied up off of Anvil Island that's in danger of sinking and still has fuel on board. However, in the relatively few protected bays in and around Howe Sound like Halkett Bay, which for years were used as log booming areas, the sea bottom is covered with so much bark that all life has been smothered. Scuttling the Annapolis in this particular location is an attempt to re-establish biodiversity to the area and bring life back by a method that has been effectively demonstrated over and over again.  In Nanaimo, for example, it only took a few years for the HMCS Saskatchewan to be colonized by all sorts of invertabrates and fish who found the protection of the ship an ideal habitat for starting a new home.

HMCS Annapolis at Port Graves, Gambier Island
It's an interesting twist on the circle of life with an old navy destroyer acting as an incubator for the oceans building blocks, but it works. Meanwhile the Annapolis sits at dock in Port Graves, the next bay over from Halkett, ready to go. Thousands of hours of volunteer labour have stripped out and removed any hazardous materials and prepared the ship so it's safe for divers, anything of scrap value has been sold to cover the moorage and insurance expenses, and all the application permits and inspections have been completed. All the diving community is waiting for is a final blessing from the Environment Ministry and the newest artificial reef can finally get started.  Bring on the wreck of the Annapolis.

HMCS Annapolis ready for sinking


  1. This article is extremely informative and well written. When I first read about the ship being sunk at Gambier I must admit I was very much against it as I did not know enough. Now, I am fully informed and must admit I think its a great idea to go ahead with the sinking. Well done.

  2. Wreck diving is a good hobby. It is nice to explore the sea bed and shipwrecks like this. Good find.