Shifting seascape

Posted: Sunday, March 27, 2005

It takes a visionary to see a park that hasn't been completed. Seeing the features at one Auke Bay park already requires more.

It takes a diver.

The Alaska Artificial Reef Society, made up of scuba divers from the Juneau area, continues to work on developing about 40 acres beneath the surface of Auke Bay, near the Auke Village Recreation Area. Two boats already rest on the bottom. The group plans to sink another later this year. The donated green steel SeaFari is moored at the Juneau Yacht Club.

Before the additions, "you could go out there and not see anything," said Sean Edwards. Now he and other members of the society said the area is teeming with underwater life.

Larry Musarra said the boats and other planned additions attract fish, crabs and other creatures.

The boat is just one of the additions to the park the artificial reef society members hope to complete by the end of August. At a membership meeting last week, divers said they also plan to build an underwater trail.

Annette Smith said she plans to dive this morning to map the park's existing boats and future feature locations. Global-positioning-system coordinates will be used to drop future features in the planned places.

She said diving is about the spirit of exploration. "The scene underwater can be pretty spectacular."

The underwater trail will be marked by rope and signs and direct users to the features. "I think we could do some pretty cool signs," she said at a the a membership meeting with eight of the group attending Thursday night.

Already, the artificial reef society has two sunken boats resting on the bottom. It downed the Rikki Tikki, a 48-foot motorsailer, in October 2003. That was the first artificial reef permitted in Alaska. A second boat, the Arctic Tern, a 70-foot motorsailer, was sunk by vandals last August before it could be prepared and put into position the group intended.

As things worked out, "she's in a very good place," Smith said of the Arctic Tern.

Musarra said the boats are within 10 feet of each other. The Arctic Tern is in shallower water, about 27 feet at low tide. The SeaFari is planned for deeper water, at a depth of about 70 feet, matching the plans held for the Arctic Tern.

The group also has plans for other features and welcomes donations. Members said Alaskan Brewing Co. has donated some old brewery equipment, such as a 6-foot-diameter pipe, 15 to 20 feet long. Plans call for holes to be cut in it for fish to get in.

Original plans of the park called for a sunken barge. Divers said they are now looking for storage containers that would serve the same purpose.

While there are more stationary features to explore and creatures to see, the containers, a large flat hard surface, would make it easier for diving instructors to see when they are training people.

Rob Darrington said the bottom is muddy, and divers can easily stir it up and reduce visibility. "It can be difficult to keep track of students, he said.

As a long-term goal, members of the reef society would like to sink a Navy ship beneath Juneau's waves, although the existing park wouldn't be large enough for it. The U.S. Navy gives away obsolete, mothballed ships for sinking as artificial reefs, Musarra said.

Darrington said he liked the idea of bringing an Anchorage-class landing ship, in part because it would have an Alaska sound to it.

Musarra said it would help more than just the divers in the community.

"If you put a Navy boat here, Juneau would be a diving mecca," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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