Nothing artificial about reef dispute 

Reef society wants to sink a former navy vessel

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There's a battle over a former Canadian naval destroyer escort ship docked in a Gambier Island bay.

Gambier homeowner Gary MacDonald and members of The Save Halkett Bay Campaign are lobbying to prevent the HMCS Annapolis from being sunk in the bay.

The Artificial Reef Society of BC (ARSBC) plans to sink the decommissioned navy vessel to create a seafloor attraction for divers.

MacDonald and his group have many concerns. First is the belief that the ship is polluted. According to MacDonald, a recently released Environment Canada study shows pollution levels in some solid components of the ship are more than eight times the allowable pollution limit.

"We've been calling for a thorough investigation of the ship's state for years," said MacDonald.

MacDonald's group is also concerned that if the vessel makes it to the bottom of Halkett Bay, divers might become trapped in the confined space and run out of air.

"We're adamant that Halkett Bay is absolutely the wrong place to sink a ship," said MacDonald. "There is too much tidal action and there is a fair likelihood that the ship will actually come apart once it's sunk. It's simply the wrong place."

The ship is currently moored at West Bay on Gambier where ongoing work to prepare it for sinking has been taking place. Environment Canada recently issued a request for proposals from companies interested in stripping all the insulation out of the ship because the insulation contains polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Howard Robins of the ARSBC is heading up the Annapolis project. He said the vessel would bring marine biodiversity to Halkett Bay once it is sunk.

"These are very good projects, they do a lot for the marine ecology and they certainly bring in a lot of tourism dollars to the province because it's based on eco-adventure dive tourism — but fundamentally artificial reefs help bring back biodiversity," said Robins. "It's needed and that's exactly why we've got it in Halkett Bay. It's all a good thing."

He added the ARSBC is doing a proper job of preparing the Annapolis for sinking.

"They have to be done right, and they have to be done to code, and done to the standards," he said of artificial reef projects.

The ARSBC isn't in a rush to sink the vessel. At this point the ARSBC needs to deal with environmental concerns and one more permit is required before the ship can be sent to the bottom of the bay. Robins said Environment Canada hasn't yet issued a permit for the project.

Annapolis was launched in April of 1963 and taken out of service in 1998. The ARSBC bought the ship in 2008.

Gambier Island is located in Howe Sound just across from Lions Bay.

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