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  July 14, 2004    
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 Juneau, AK

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Second Boat to Become Artificial Reef

Vanessa Orr
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Larry Musarra, Vieve Day and Butchy Fleek help to get the Arctic Tern ready to become an artifical reef. The boat will be sunk on August 285h.. Photo courtesy of AARS
Normally, the sinking of a boat in Auke Bay wouldn’t be considered good news. But when the Arctic Tern is submerged into its cloudy depths on August 28, it will be a welcome sight for those who explore Juneau’s underwater world.

"On land, an old cement boat is just a piece of junk, but underwater it becomes a mystical thing," explained Larry Musarra, a scuba diver and vice-president of the Alaska Artificial Reef Society (AARS), Inc. "Boats attract rockfish, Ling cod, even octopus—anything that’s looking for a place to hide."

The Arctic Tern is the second boat that will be sunk by AARS, the group creating a 40-acre waterpark off the coast of Auke Rec. The first boat, the Rikki Tikki, was sunk in October of 2003 with positive results.

"It’s one of the most beautiful reefs that I’ve ever dived," said Su Lachelt of Channel Dive. "There are fish snooping around, and king crab everywhere! They just went berserk when she was sunk—all winter long, she was stampeded by giant crab."
The Arctic Tern waits to become the next artifical reef in Juneau. The 73-foot cement boat will find its final resting place 70 feet below water. Photo courtesy of AARS

Lachelt and Musarra first discussed the idea of sinking a boat years ago. "I was in Kodiak in the 1980s and thought it would be neat to start an artificial reef there, but there weren’t enough divers interested to get it going," said Musarra. "When I moved to Juneau, I thought there was the potential for a reef here, too."

"We really just wanted to sink a boat because we thought it would be too cool," laughed Lachelt. "But you know how Juneau is…word gets out. And once other divers heard about the artificial reef, they wanted it too."

The waterpark’s first boat was donated by Trucano Construction, who’d had the vessel sitting on their dock for two years. "We christened it Rikki Tikki because we couldn’t call it otter poop," said Lachelt of the boat that animals had left in a disgusting condition. Volunteer divers donated hours of labor to remove the boat’s engines and give it a thorough cleaning to ensure that it wouldn’t cause harm to the environment. Unfortunately, some government entities weren’t quite as excited about the idea of an artificial reef as the volunteers.

"We were naïve—we thought that we’d apply for a permit through the Corps of Engineers and get it," said Musarra. "After all, artificial reef programs have been going on for decades. But the Department of Natural Resources said that we couldn’t do it because of liability and risk issues."

After 18 long months, and the intervention of some ‘highly placed’ political allies, the application was finally approved and Alaska got its first artificial reef. "We were given permission to sink the boat and the state also awarded us 40 acres off of Auke Rec to tun into an underwater park," said Lachelt.

The creation of the park required the cooperation of federal, state and local agencies. The Forest Service owns the Auke Rec uplands and access, the state of Alaska owns the water three miles out into the ocean, and the City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ) had to take on the role of ‘responsible party’ for the park itself.

"From a Parks and Rec standpoint, it’s a great opportunity to provide a recreational opportunity for a group of people we haven’t served in the past," said CBJ Director of Parks and Rec Kim Kieffer. "The city benefits because there is no cost to us—AARS checks on the safety of the boat and if any work is needed, they do the repairs. The community benefits because they are being offered a wider range of activities than before. The divers definitely seem to be liking it—so it’s a good mix all the way around."

Divers like the artificial reef so much, in fact, that they decided to create another one with the sinking of the Arctic Tern. "The Arctic Tern had been moved out into the ocean after its tenant got evicted, so we decided to track down its mom and dad and ask them to give it to us," said Lachelt of the 73-foot cement boat which had been sitting at Fishermen’s Bend for years.

Divers have since cleaned up the boat, removing its engines and fuel tanks, stripping the paint and gutting the tight interior. "Then a group of lady divers, called the GODIVAS, decided it needed more aesthetic help," said Lachelt. "One of our members, Tani Bell,. is an artist, so she painted dolphins on one side and a mermaid on the other."

The group also epoxyed cups to the boat’s counters and added other decorative touches. "It looks like kind of a crazy house now," said Lachelt.

"When the GODIVAS first told me their plans, I thought they were nuts," said Bell. "The wanted me to point designs on the boat while it was in the water. It was pretty ambitious, but we did it. On a hot, sunny day, I painted the boat while the others held the skiff steady and warned me about other boats’ wakes."

As a diver, Bell is extremely pleased with the first reef, and is looking forward to the second. "Before, there wasn’t a lot to look at in Auke Bay—it was not a lot of fun," she explained. But the first time I dove on the Rikki Tikki, I was shocked! There are so many different things living there, and you can see things that normally, you’d only find in deeper water. It’s attracted a whole new ecosystem to the area."

While the Rikki Tikki is sunk in 54 feet of water, AARS plans to sink the Arctic Tern 70 feet below. "It took the first boat about two-and-a-half hours to sink, and the audience got a bit grumbly," said Lachelt. "This time, we’re going to flood the boat from above."

Future plans for the reef include adding ‘reef balls,’ which attract a variety of plant and animal life, and a sea trail, which will include an underwater navigation course. "Eventually, we’ll have this park full—40 acres really isn’t a lot of space once you start filling it up," said Lachelt. "Then we’ll probably look for other places to build artificial reefs."

"We encourage other towns in Southeast and other clubs and dive shops to copy the idea as well," added Lachelt. "It’s easier to do now because we paved the way. And it’s such a great way to encourage habitat—just build it and they will come"

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