"If we can't have it, it's unfortunate, but someone in the area should," said Kal Helyar of Porpoise Bay Charters upon hearing the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. (ARSBC)'s announcement that Comox waters, not Sechelt's, will be the site of the Boeing 737 artificial reef project. Bill Coltart, Pacific Pro Drive and ARSBC Projects Co-ordinator for the Boeing 737 artificial reef project, is pleased with the new location. He agreed to support the project when Sechelt Inlet no longer was a viable option. The ARSBC predicts the artificial reef project will bolster the diving tourism industry in Comox, as the HMCS Chaudière has done for Sechelt.
Ten years after becoming an artificial reef, the Chaudière remains a popular dive site among Porpoise Bay Charters' clients. Divers travel from Oregon, Washington and Alberta for the challenge of the Chaudière technical dive. The Boeing 737, stripped of all contaminants to marine life and possible dangers to divers, was slated to be placed 500 feet from the HMCS Chaudière sometime in February. But after the Sunshine Coast Regional District and the Sechelt Indian Band government voiced their opposition, the plan was scrapped in favour of Comox.
Cranes will lower the Boeing 737 into Comox waters until it is completely submerged. Once underwater, the plane will become inhabited by marine life and subsequently become a source of food for other species. The more variety of marine life found at the site, the greater the appeal to destination divers - a term to define divers who plan trips to destinations outside their home area. The creation of the artificial reef not only spares sensitive natural reefs and historic dive sites from erosion but attracts new marine life and divers to an area once neglected. Altruistic intentions aside, the goal of the artificial reef project is to increase destination dives in B.C. waters. Divers generate money for the eco-tourism industry. They book air flights and hotels, charter boats, rent equipment and buy food in town. Tremendous potential for economic spin-offs exists for Comox with the right promotion.
B.C.'s number one ranking as the Best Dive Destination in Rodale's Scuba Diving magazine's January/February 2003 issue could not have been more opportune. The attractive exchange rate, the rich variety of fish species and now the sinking of a Boeing 737 should keep B.C. a contender for the number one position in future issues, but at what cost?
Environmental groups have been against the Boeing 737 artificial reef project from the beginning, saying the previous vessels have not been properly cleaned of asbestos and are therefore toxic to marine life. Groups such as the Georgia Strait Alliance also argue that artificial reefs actually result in fish depletion by increasing fish concentration in one area, which leads to over-fishing, and that artificial reef projects are simply ocean-dumping disguised as stewardship.
One thing is certain. Once Environment Canada approves a site off Comox, the project will benefit the area's diving industry.