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Let’s Sink A Ship Off Coogee

By John Rowe on October 1, 2013 in News

Photo: Nick Andrews

Photo: Nick Andrews

Artificial reefs created using ex naval ships provide fantastic opportunities for us semi-aquatic Beasts to enhance our enjoyment of our beautiful ocean.

The NSW state government has recently built a fishing reef 1.2 kilometres off Vaucluse for our angling pleasure, and plans another three. Given that the state government is still fully assessing the impact of the fishing reefs, it is unlikely that a ship reef anywhere off Sydney would happen for another three or four years.

In saying that, the area east of Coogee’s Wedding Cake Island is seen as a possible site for an artificial reef created by the scuttling of an ex naval ship. Being the midpoint between Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay, where most dive charter operators launch their boats, it is seen as the perfect location. It is also an easy distance from several popular dive sites, including Maroubra’s Magic Point, the aforementioned Wedding Cake Island and Shark Point in Clovelly.

The site also has all of the characteristics necessary for a ship to be sunk. It has a bare sandy bottom deep enough to ensure that the vessel is stable, there are no extreme currents and it boasts an ability to attract marine life. It is outside shipping lanes, there are no telecommunication cables and it will have minimal impact on commercial fisheries.

The proposal is based on the federal government gifting a decommissioned ship, of which 24 will be made available in the coming years, to the state. The state then takes over the considerable cost of preparing the ship for sinking.

Regretfully, the last ship scuttled off the NSW coast for this purpose – the ex HMAS Adelaide off Avoca Beach – came up against some ill-informed but well-intentioned community opposition from the No Ship Action Group (NSAG). This group was able to delay the sinking by lodging an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) because of an administrative cock-up. Essentially, the minister approved the sinking date before he approved the sinking. Their arguments against the ship sinking were based on purported negative environmental impacts, when in fact there were none. Unfortunately, the NSAG’s actions have tarnished the idea of a shipwreck for future projects, despite numerous scientific articles (over seventy that we have searched thus far) finding that the negative impacts of ship sinkings are negligible, if any.

There are, on the other hand, many positive environmental effects associated with the creation of an artificial reef, such as creating a new habitat for a multitude of vertebrate and invertebrate species. The artificial reef will also allow natural reefs to hook up with each other in positive ways and provide corridors that will allow smaller fish to safely move from one reef to another.

The artificial reef is also likely to have positive economic impacts on the local area, as it could create an average of $3.4 million per year in new tourism revenue, based on the revenues of other artificial reefs in Maroochydore and Avoca Beach. There will also be educational benefits created by the artificial reef, with research projects likely to be undertaken by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) on the scuttled ship.

Needless to say, a permanent foreign object becoming a part of our marine environment would be a lot of fun for locals wanting to partake in scuba diving in the area. And if you don’t like to get too deep underwater, there’s the possibility for a shore-based viewing station linked to an underwater camera located on the wreck, so no one will miss out on the wonders of the ocean.

The Gordon’s Bay Scuba Diving Club is understandably pretty gungho about this project and they’d be delighted to hear from readers of The Beast about what they think of such a project. Feel free to shoot your feedback through to secretary@