On April 4, 2015, the HMCS Annapolis was sunk in the waters of Howe Sound, off Gambier Island northwest of Vancouver. The former navy destroyer was decommissioned and now will have new life, acting as an artificial reef for marine species and as a local attraction for divers.

Dr. Jeff Marliave, vice president of marine science at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, and research coordinator Jessica Shultz, were on hand the day of the sinking to conduct sonar monitoring around the hull of the ship immediately prior to sinking. They were there at the request of Environment Canada to fulfill a requirement that the absence of fish in the immediate vicinity be monitored prior to the blasting. This task required sonar soundings around the periphery of the hull in the hour prior to sinking. Holes were cut into the hull to assist with sinking and within two minutes after detonation, the Annapolis was beneath the water.

Annapolis Sinking

Two minutes after detonation the Annapolis is underwater. Photo Credit: Tom Magliery

The following week divers from the Vancouver Aquarium Howe Sound Research Program went down to obtain footage of the hull as it now rests on the seabed of Halkett Bay. For a half decade the Aquarium dive team has documented seabed biodiversity on the cliffs of the east shore of the bay, inside Halkett Bay Marine Park. This site serves as a control site with no Arctic outflow winds, for comparison with a site on Bowyer Island that directly faces those strong Squamish winds.

Annapolis ship dive reef

Our dive research team takes a close up look at the sunken Annapolis.

From the Halkett Bay biodiversity records, our scientists can predict the colonization that will occur on the Annapolis. Common species that divers will one day witness on the Annapolis, in order of abundance based on shoreline trends, include: copper rockfish, striped perch, calcareous tubeworms, coonstripe shrimp, sea cucumbers, green sea urchins, pile perch, shiner perch, quillback rockfish, plumose anemones, lingcod, feather stars, squat lobsters, and cloud sponges. Of course, some species, such as shiner perch, may rapidly colonize by immigration, whereas shrimp, anemones and rockfish species will all settle as larval recruits. For rockfish, the shorter-lived copper rockfish can be expected to have successful larval survival more frequently than a long-lived species like the quillback, which more rarely experiences successful settlement events. A rarer and similarly long-lived species like the yelloweye rockfish should ultimately become an inhabitant of the Annapolis, but maybe not in the lifetime of every interested diver, since this species lives for over a century and has infrequent birth years yielding successful settlement of young from the planktonic larval stage.

Sea life on the Annapolis in Howe Sound

These crabs are already making a home on the sunken Annapolis.

If you’re a local diver in B.C., visit the Vancouver Aquarium online where you can participate in citizen science by uploading and sharing your findings on lingcod spawning, rockfish abundance and sponge reef growth monitoring. For the Annapolis, the Aquarium is launching a new web page to which divers may submit videos and photos of sea life on the hull in Halkett Bay. Posted material will be verified for taxonomic identifications by Aquarium staff. Stay tuned for more details on the website launch.

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