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Page last updated at 08:35 GMT, Monday, 27 September 2010 09:35 UK
Weymouth's artificial reef 'will boost area'
Diving
The Wreck to Reef project could add a 'wow' factor say organisers

A plan to sink a ship off Weymouth and Portland to create an artificial diving reef would "put the area back on the diving map", say its supporters.

The project by the community and local business group Wreck to Reef believe it would revitalise the area's businesses.

Project co-ordinator Neville Copperthwaite says few divers are currently attracted to Dorset's waters.

An artificial diving reef off Plymouth, HMS Scylla, has taken many of the area's potential divers, he claims.

Wow factor

Sean Webb and Marcus Darley, who have run a Portland-based dry-suit business for 21 years, are directors of the project, which is funded by local businesses and donations from other interested groups.

As well as the new facilities in Plymouth, Mr Webb and Mr Darley also blame the decline of the diving industry in Weymouth and Portland on the closure of a popular diving site at the entrance to Portland Harbour.

HMS Hood was a vessel deliberately sunk - or scuppered - in November 1914, to protect the fleet within the harbour from torpedo attacks.

It was closed to divers in 2004 for safety reasons.

Mr Darley said: "With the Hood closing [divers in Weymouth and Portland have] lost that wow factor."

Lobster hatchery

Marcus Darley and Sean Webb
Marcus Darley and Sean Webb run a drysuit retailers on Portland

The actual ship wreck that would form the reef is still to be chosen but it could be HMS Southampton or Exeter, Type 42 Destroyers currently in Portsmouth awaiting decommissioning.

The hope is that the vessel will be bought - at a cost of around £300,000 - and then donated to the project by a local salvage operator.

They would strip it, clean it, and sell off any valuable components - but this means the project team will not have to fund the wreck's purchase themselves.

It is hoped to have the vessel in place on the seabed by autumn 2011, which would be the first of several reefs in the area of seabed they are leasing.

The team also wants to introduce a lobster hatchery which will boost local fishing stocks - to be paid for by a £111,000 grant from local cultural organisation Chalk and Cheese.

There is also a plan for "bereavement balls" - hollow honeycombed concrete balls that would contain human ashes and be sold for several thousand pounds each.

Then a second ship to dive on would be sunk in 2014.

'Positive impact'

A key milestone of the project was reached in June, when Dorset County Council agreed to act as leaseholder on the 1km sq area of seabed, a mile south of Ringstead Bay.

It is owned by the Crown Estate but only statutory authorities, such as a council, are able to take a lease on the seabed.

Helen Heanes, a senior economic development officer at Dorset County Council, said: "Research has indicated that the impact on the local economy of the diving element [of the reef] alone will be £1.25m each year.

"The project has a lot of support and investment from local businesses."

More cautious

Portland Harbour. HMS Hood was sunk at the entrance in 1914
HMS Hood at the entrance to Portland Harbour was closed to divers in 2004

But other local groups and organisations are less enthusiastic about the project.

Dorset Wildlife Trust is cautious about the impact on marine life.

Marine ecologist Peter Tinsley said: "On environmental grounds, we're not opposed to the idea per se of artificial structures on the seabed if that enhances the commercial value of the seabed, as long as there's a good case put forward and the potential negative impacts are minimised."

And the Royal Yachting Association has expressed concern that the wreck may obstruct recreational sailing in the area.

Helen Heanes said: "I don't think there will be any clash of interest between sailing and diving. It's a large enough area that sailing events can be staged elsewhere."

Marcus Darley said: "Generally we have had a lot of support, but there has been some concern, and that could be because people are not getting the information to make an informed decision [about it]."

The next part of the project is to gain a license from the Marine Management Organisation, which works to promote clean seas and sustainable development in the marine area, for the wreck to be placed on the seabed.




SEE ALSO
Council backs artificial reef
01 Jul 10 |  Dorset
In pictures: HMS Scylla
27 Mar 04 |  Photo Gallery

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