Helicopter sculpture proposed for artificial reef

Manmade reef needs a heli?

In the six years since HMCS Annapolis was sunk in Halkett Bay off Gambier Island in Howe Sound, more than 160 marine species have made themselves at home on the vessel. But according to president and CEO of the Artificial Reef Society of BC (ARSBC) Howard Robins, there’s still space onboard for more life.

That’s where the idea of attaching an original scale sculpture of a Sea King to the flight deck comes in. Since the flight deck is a flat open space, it has so far been largely ignored by marine life.

“It came to mind, why not consider putting a metal structure on the ship that has height and width, and complexity, so that more marine life can take hold in that area, which is rather barren right now, because it’s just a flat steel deck,” Robins said.

“When you add more height and complexity, then you’re starting to attract different types of marine life – much of which is already seen on the ship – but you’re just amplifying it.”

Acquiring a real helicopter involves a complicated process, Robins said, so the society opted to have a sculpture fabricated “without any objectionable material” that allows the current to flow through it. The Sea King is a nod to Annapolis’ past when, as Robins said, helicopters were the eyes and ears of ships that had helicopter capability. In 2019, the Royal Canadian Air Force officially retired their fleet of Sea Kings.

In February, the society applied to the Minister of Transport for approval of the proposed addition. The proposal is publicly available online via the Navigable Waters Registry, in accordance with the Canadian Navigable Waters Act, and a public commenting period is open until April 25.

While the application lists expected construction dates as Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, 2021, Robins told Glacier Media that the date is theoretical as the proposal is still in the planning and discussion stages.

“This is simply a proposal right now. It’s not a done deal,” Robins said, adding that the application is part of their process for due diligence by keeping authorities informed. The society will be adding more information to their website once they have a more developed design.

“The overall concept, I believe it has merit,” Robins said.

The proposal of a Sea King replica includes a plan to attach the sculpture by lowering it from a barge by crane to the existing flight deck. Even with the proposed 16-foot (4.8-metre) height of the replica on top of the deck, the overall height would still be within the required depth for navigational purposes, Robins said.

Since 1991, the society has sunk eight ships – and one Boeing 737 – off B.C.’s coast. Of these nine sites, Robins said the proximity of the Annapolis gave the society an opportunity to conduct an in-depth research study. Over five years and with help of the provincial government, scientific divers and a marine taxonomist with Ocean Wise Research Institute, the Annapolis Biodiversity Index Study (ABIS) has documented marine life on the artificial reef. Where there was previously a lack of life after industry in the area, now lingcod and rockfish are among the creatures that live aboard the vessel.

Robins said the 2020 study shows that the artificial reefs “provide space and shelter for predator and prey. We see predator species on the vessel, we see harbouring animals on the ship as well.”

Keeping marine life populations in good health is an important thing in Howe Sound, he added. “And so we find that it’s very gratifying when we dive on the ship and we see evidence of rockfish popularity in different areas. We see them hiding in little crevices where we expect them to be, and we see lingcod egg masses … and we’re seeing the type of fish and flora and fauna, which the ABIS report indicates and verified by credible source like the aquarium. So we’re very proud of it.”

As for the proposed installation, Robins said, “it’ll seed that open space, because nature fills the void.”

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