The Kodiak Queen—formerly Navy fuel barge YO-44 and one of the five remaining boats from the attack on Pearl Harbor—has taken on a new life as an underwater art installation and marine life habitat close to Virgin Gorda and Necker Island (British Virgin Islands). The historical World War II ship was converted to an artificial reef and “art canvas.” As Jennifer Billock (The New York Times) reported in March [see previous post New Caribbean Dive Site: A Ship That Survived Pearl Harbor], the project is called “Project YOKO B.V.I. Art Reef, a mash-up of the boat’s two names, and is a collaboration among Sir Richard Branson; Unite B.V.I., a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring and empowering children of the islands; Secret Samurai Productions, a team of artists that seeks to solve real-world problems through art; Maverick1000, a social-justice oriented group of entrepreneurs; the ocean education and research nonprofit Beneath the Waves; and a few other groups.” Here are excerpts from Bloomberg News and the BVI Art Reef site:
[. . .] While marine conservation is a personal passion for Branson, B.V.I Art Reef began with an entirely different preservation story, that of the decommissioned Kodiak Queen. Despite the ship’s historic significance, it had decayed past the point of repair; an unknown owner had abandoned it in the B.V.I., and it was scheduled for demolition after spending years in a junkyard. In short, the Kodiak Queen had become an eyesore. “In the B.V.I, we have a lot of derelict ships that are aground on the main island of Tortola,” explained Branson. “They detract from the natural beauty of the place.”
One of Branson’s team members, a marine mechanic and photographer named Owen Buggy, saw an opportunity: “[Buggy] pitched the idea to me of cleaning this ship of any environmental hazards and then intentionally sinking it to become an artificial reef and recreational dive site,” recalled Branson. It didn’t take much convincing for the serial entrepreneur to get on board.
[. . .] Restoring the Kodiak Queen has been a nine-month endeavor. Though the investment sum was undisclosed, the project is likely to have cost more than $4 million, which is what it cost to create and sink another artificial reef in Palm Beach, Fla., earlier this year. [. . .] At a private party on April 12, after it’s had a couple of days to settle on the ocean floor, Branson and his team will take an inaugural dive around the site and then honor the 15 founding members (and other helping hands) at a party back at Necker Island.
A robust coral grafting program will follow. In time, Branson expects the coral to propagate naturally and create a thriving ecosystem—one that he hopes will bring back the endangered goliath grouper. (Having the massive fish in these waters doesn’t just make for good diving; grouper are also natural predators of invasive lionfish.) Simultaneously, marine researchers will come in and start studying the effects of artificial reefs on rehabilitating over-trafficked dive sites. And the Art Reef team will also work with local operators to create “dive adventures” [. . .].
The Transcendence of The YO-44 [from BVI Art Reef]
[. . .] The historical relevance of the ship, the human interest elements of underwater sculptures, the opportunity to stimulate the local economy through the promotion of a new recreational dive site, the scientific study opportunities of an artificial reef with the primary objectives of protecting vulnerable species such as the Goliath Grouper, helping to eradicate introduced species such as lionfish to help protect our endemic species of local fish, coral restoration, recording the evolution of increased biodiversity as the ship develops it’s very own ecosystem, and engaging with local schools and universities to create an educational platform on a local level..
UNITE: Honor Our World History
Save the YO-44 (aka “Kodiak Queen”) from demolition— one of just 5 surviving ships from WW2 Pearl Harbor— and transform her into a living symbol of joy, rebirth and regeneration.
INSPIRE: Art As Healing
Create an ever-evolving “must see” sunken art gallery that attracts divers from around the world, with sculptures and dive-throughs strategically designed to delight both divers and marine life alike.
HEAL: Ocean Conservation & Rehabilitation
Sculptures act coral out-planting platforms, and provide feeding optimal feeding grounds and hiding spaces for the heavily over-fished Goliath Grouper and other marine life populations.
ADVANCE: Marine Science & Stewardship
Electrical impulses kick-start coral growth to create a thriving platform for cutting-edge research in marine health sciences, to advance our understanding and stewardship of fragile marine ecosystems.
IMPACT: Boost Local Economy & Community
Provide marine rehabilitation solutions that BENEFIT the local economy (vs prohibiting fisherman and dive operators), with charitable proceeds supporting swim and marine education programs for kids.
LEGACY: A Self-Sustaining Marine Park
Dive tourism proceeds from this incredible dive site maintain the health of the reef, support further research; and provide a fun, creative platform for worldwide artists, engineers, scientists, technologists, philanthropists and the global community to continue building on.
[Photo of “Kodiak Queen and Kraken” above by Owen Buggy; see https://www.facebook.com/bviartreef/.]
For more information, see http://www.divethebviartreef.com/, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-07/richard-branson-opens-b-v-i-art-reef-scuba-dive-site and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/08/travel/british-virgin-islands-historic-ship-dive-site-richard-branson.html?_r=0