Artificial ReefAuthor:Lindsey Shook
It is very rare that Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin empire, would allow an investment to plummet. But that was the plan when it came to the B.V.I. Art Reef, a repurposed, man-made platform that combines art, marine conservation and history to regenerate coral reefs and marine life in the British Virgin Islands.
Located in the waters of Virgin Gorda, turning a historical ship into an artificial reef began with an idea by Owen Buggy, a photographer on Necker Island at the time, who found the abandoned USS YO-44, otherwise known as The Kodiak Queen, one of only five ships that survived Pearl Harbor.
Buggy piqued the interest of Branson, who then brought the idea to Unite BVI, a nonprofit organization founded by the Branson family and the Virgin Group that unites innovative ideas and dynamic partnerships to benefit the community and environment in the British Virgin Islands.
Unite BVI introduced it as a “challenge” to the Maverick1000 group, entrepreneurs who took on the project and made it achievable by adding large-scale art, conservation and economic impact elements. They quickly assembled a team of artists, engineers, investors and thinkers to make a strategic plan to save the World War II vessel from becoming scrap metal. The goal: To not only rejuvenate coral and vulnerable marine life, including a rare species of Goliath grouper, but to develop an educational, top recreational dive destination that would generate economic growth in the region.
“There are no other projects that directly benefit the community as much as The Kodiak Queen,” says Chris Juredin, founder of Commercial Dive Services of British Virgin Islands. “It will directly improve the lives of the less fortunate children of the British Virgin Islands who show interest in the marine environment. Proceeds from each dive on the site will be invested in various marine programs—including one of the most important ones, teaching children to swim.”
An innovative group of artists and welders from all over the United States spent more than 40 days on the island of Tortola fabricating an 80-foot-long mesh creature inspired by the Kraken—a legendary mythical beast whose giant tentacles would sink ships. “This was definitely one of the most challenging projects I have worked on.” says Andrew
Shook, lead sculptor and fabricator. “With the ship constantly moving, one wrong step and you could be cut by old metal or fall into a hole. But highlighting the ancient Kraken lore while creating an educational experience that also helps the environment made it all worth it,” he adds. “I hope we can continue to develop similar projects throughout the entire world.”
The massive mesh sea creature was fastened to the ship before the teams gathered for the sink, which will ignite the growth of the art reef. This art-to-ship connection gives their partner—Beneath the Waves—the opportunity to per- form cutting-edge environmental DNA scientific research as well as inspire the next generation of marine stewards. The project may seed more than just reef life, studies and philanthropy—organizers hope additional art installations will also grow in the area.
For more information, visit divethebviartreef.com.