One year ago, an old military ship got a new lease on life when it was sent to the ocean floor in Howe Sound.

On April 4, 2015, the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. used a series of controlled detonations to sink the HMCS Annapolis in Halkett Bay Provincial Marine Park on Gambier Island. The event marked the creation of the first artificial reef in the Greater Vancouver area.

After one year of sitting on the sea floor, the 110-metre, helicopter-carrying destroyer escort has become home to a diverse and growing community of marine life and a source of much excitement for scientists and divers. As well as serving as new dive site to explore, the ship has provided habitat for schooling fish and invertebrates that are being monitored by a dedicated team of academics and citizen scientists.

Coastal Ocean Research Institute

The Annapolis goes down with a bang inHowe Sound. Photo Credit: Tom Magliery

The data collected will help document marine species recruitment on the ship as part of the Annapolis Biodiversity Index Study (ABIS), a partnership between the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, the Squamish Nation, the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society and BC Parks.

“The Annapolis has become a major eco-adventure destination for all diver skill levels, and we’re delighted that scores of divers are enjoying this new installation within a provincial marine park,” said Howie Robins, president of the society. “The Annapolis is now a living laboratory for research, adding to the richness and recovery of Howe Sound.”

Green sea urchins are just some of the creatures that have made the Annapolis their home.

Green sea urchins are just some of the creatures that have made the Annapolis their home.

To date, the catalogue of organisms now making a home on the convoluted structure of the Annapolis includes tubeworms, sea stars, anemones, mussels, prawns, rockfish, pollock, schools of perch and more.

That has Donna Gibbs, research diver and taxonomist in the Vancouver Aquarium’s Howe Sound Research Program, incredibly excited. “There are 10 major groups that I track and there are nine of them on the ship already. The only group missing is sponges so it’ll be interesting to see when they show up.”

Spot prawns are another species that has moved in.

Spot prawns are another species that has moved in.

While Gibbs is maintaining the study’s marine life taxon, she said the research wouldn’t be possible without assistance from volunteer divers. “Citizen science divers have been a tremendous help to the ABIS project by providing video footage for us to interpret when we can’t be there,” she said.

If you’re a diver, help us build our catalogue of life on the Annapolis! Check out our Annapolis web page to find out how to submit your photos and video to the study.

The Howe Sound Research Program is part of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an independent, collaborative research body dedicated to collecting, analyzing and communicating research about the health of our coast ecosystems and Canada’s West Coast.

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