The difference between dumping and manmade reef activities

Since the early 1990s, Project AWARE has helped turn several ships into artificial reefs off the Canadian, Mexican, US, UK and most recently Kenyan coasts. Organisers thoroughly clean the ships and open many passageways to make them appealing habitats to marine life as well as safer for visiting divers. Project AWARE has also continuously provided support to reefball projects worldwide. These initiatives help take pressure off the natural reefs which are in decline. The theory is simple: the more people who use the artificial reefs, the fewer use natural ones. Natural reefs therefore have time to recover and replenish. However, it is not that simple and some issues should be mentioned concerning some unique aspects of artificial reefs and dive tourism. Several critical issues of national importance provide the focus for many debates regarding manmade reef activities. These include permit programmes, regulatory requirements, materials criteria, liability, research and evaluation, site location, and the role of all parties involved in artificial reef development, management and regulation.

Regulatory requirements
It is laudable that dive tourism entities are interested in learning how to properly prepare and place artificial reefs. In developed countries today, the lion's share of the expense in preparing a ship for placement is in cleaning it to the high standards required by environmental regulators. In some countries such rigorous requirements don't apply but it is important that dive operators who want to create an artificial reef adhere to these requirements even when not required by local law.

A poorly prepared ship can have a devastating impact on marine life. Derelict ships, in particular, contain considerable amounts of toxic substances such as PCBs, asbestos, lubricants / fuel and highly poisonous paint.

Success story in Kenya
Buccaneer Diving and
Buccaneer Wrecks Team with the support of Project AWARE (UK) spent more than a year preparing and thoroughly cleaning a 75 metre decommissioned livestock carrier M.V. Dania to create an artificial reef within the Mombasa Marine Park Boundaries in Kenya. The Kenya Wildlife Services inspected the vessel and the Buccaneer Wreck Team received permission to sink it. This was achieved successfully on the 27th October 2002. The Dania is now resting perfectly upright with her keel at 30 metres. The various routes made available for divers have been colour-coded for safety reasons. The Buccaneer divers have found, much to their satisfaction, that the wreck had already been inhabited by remora, sardines and fry. The Buccaneer Wreck Team is now continuously monitoring and evaluating the site.
The sinking event was a tremendous success and it is hoped that M.V. Dania will place Mombasa firmly on the map as an environmental sustainable tourist destination.

The impact on fish populations
This is just one example of a successful artificial reef project among others. Success doesn't always follows naturally. Among the numerous concerns related to artificial reef projects, there are also concerns regarding its impact on fish populations particularly in developing nations where fisheries laws and enforcement may be inexistant.

Placement of artificial reefs results in the aggregation of fish. As a result, the effort required to catch these fish within a particular area is decreased. When there is no regulation of the fishery, an artificial reef may contribute to a decline in local fish populations simply by making them easier to catch.
Well-intended attempts to help conserve local marine resources by placing an artificial reef could actually have the opposite effect.
The right choice of materials
Understandably, we most often assume that artificial reef projects are beneficial, or at least benign, to the environment. Marine tourism and conservation can go hand in hand, but the marriage is not automatic. Beyond the general guidelines that artificial reefs should create no hazard to
navigation and the marine environment, materials used to develop artificial reefs should not create the potential to trap divers or marine vertebrates.
Compatibility of materials with the marine environment is essential to developing a successful artificial reef. Materials must be selected because they meet the primary goal of creating habitat for marine fish and invertebrate organisms. Cars, construction materials, tires for example are listed under the Dumping Activities section of the Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup Data Card.
Before considering any artificial reef project, individuals and dive operators should be aware of all the issues, environmental and legal requirements involved in the preparation and placement of an artificial reef. Project AWARE is committed to serve as the compass in guiding the path for those who are sincerely interested in protecting the environment. Guidelines for Marine Artificial Reef Materials and a Coastal Artificial Reef Planning Guide is available from Project AWARE (UK), contact Domino Albert on Funding guidelines are also available on
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