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
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."
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
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
"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
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
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’
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
"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