A fish swims
between tanks that fell off a barge in the '40s and landed on top of each other.
off Lover's Point in Monterey Bay. (Courtesy photo of Ben Licari, Northern
California Oceans Foundation and California Ships to Reefs)
Dismantling retired and obsolete
former war and merchant vessels is not the only solution for the Suisun Bay
mothball fleet, according to a group of divers.
The nonprofit California Ships to Reefs says sinking ships and turning them
into artificial reefs is the best way for the federal government to remove the
reserve vessels from the fleet. While the group is open to other large ships for
sinking, the big prize would be the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, said Executive
Director Eleanore Rewerts.
More than 70 vessels have been deemed in need of removal from the bay's
waters after sitting in some cases for more than 50 years.
Recent studies of the fleet's obsolete vessels have revealed that the
decomposing ships are contaminating local
Yukon sits in
San Diego's Underwater Recreation Area. The photo is of the crow's nest - seen
when diving down from the center mooring buoy. In addition to attracting anglers
and divers, reefs can provide hard bottom habitat for fish. (Courtesy of Randy
Herz/ Northern California Oceans Foundation and California Ships to
waters, raising pressure on federal agencies to
remove the vessels in the most expedient, cost effective and environmentally
Artificial reefing has been designated as just one such removal method.
Compared to long term storage, domestic scrapping and overseas scrapping,
reefing offers cost-effective disposal that can bring in tourism and tax
dollars, according to the organization's Web site, www.cs2r.org.
"We see ourselves as an alternative method to ship recycling and as an
opportunity for the historic ports in California to develop a sustainable income
other than fishing," said Dean Rewerts, California Ships to Reefs vice
president. "Our view is that there's ... more bang for the buck on artificial
reefing than recycling."
In addition to attracting anglers and recreational divers, artificial reefs
can provide hard bottom habitat for fish. Sites in San Diego, Orange County,
Santa Barbara, Morrow Bay, Monterey Bay, Fort Bragg and near Eureka are all
promising sink sites, Rewerts said.
California Ships to Reefs serves as the statewide umbrella and coordinator
for a coalition of "sink groups" along the coast. It is based in Wheatland, just
north of Sacramento, and has been working on securing a ship from the federal
government for the past two years, Rewerts said.
The U.S. Maritime Administration, which oversees the Suisun Bay fleet as well
as ones in Texas and Virginia, identifies artificial reefing as an alternative
to the more common dismantling of ships in its 2008 environmental assessment of
the three fleets' disposable ships.
The highest priority mothballed ships are typically not the best candidates
for reefing, generally being neither clean enough nor in good enough condition
for commercial use once sunk, according to the assessment. While the Maritime
Administration was authorized in 2005 to offer vessel transportation and
cleaning assistance for reefing, the federal agency will only provide assistance
for high priority vessels.
Also, an organization such as California Ships to Reefs would not take
control of the vessels itself. Rather, the state would agree to take
responsibility for a vessel and work with agencies on sinking it, Rewerts said.
The organization is currently stalled in negotiations between the state
Department of Fish and Game and the Maritime Administration due to a lawsuit
against the federal agency over the fleet's alleged Suisun Bay pollution.
Alternative options include private vessels and the Canadian government's
Iroquois class destroyers, which would come pre-cleaned.
The federal report goes on to note that there is a lack of established
environmental standards for the reefing of ships, especially when it comes to
PCB chemical contaminants.
Artificial ship reefing has its proponents, but there may be unidentified
environmental impacts, said Saul Bloom, executive director for the Bay Area
environmental watchdog group Arc Ecology.
"Another way of approaching the death of reefs is to put less pollution in
the water," Bloom said. "But I don't believe there's enough information yet ...
(on the) long term implications of the pollutants."
Ships would be stripped of harmful chemicals, paints and hardware before they
would be sunk at any of the identified coastal locations in the state, said
"Our first and foremost mandate is that we will do no harm," Rewerts said.
"We're primarily a group of divers."
Rewerts added that reefing the mothball fleets would be intended as an
addition to ship recycling, rather than a replacement for it. In fact, local
shipyards would be needed to clean the vessels and to cut holes for divers.