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New proposal aims to turn Nova Scotia into an international diving destination

Click to play video 'Divers hope to turn derelict ship into artificial reef' Divers hope to turn derelict ship into artificial reef
A group of divers and artificial reef experts are working together to try and turn Lunenburg, N.S., into an international tourism destination for scuba divers.

It takes less than an hour by boat from Lunenburg, N.S., to an underwater diving attraction that a coalition of divers and artificial reef experts is hoping will soon expand into an international diving destination.

“I would argue this could be an internationally-known dive site,” said JP Angelopoulos, the president of the Nova Scotia Underwater Council.

“We already have one amazing shipwreck out there and to add what is a former navy diver vessel, if we could add that close by, you could have a weekend of diving here in Lunenburg, and it would be an incredible time for us.”

The volunteer diving crew left the waterfront of Lunenburg in search of a potential area where a new artificial reef could sit on the Atlantic ocean floor.
The volunteer diving crew left the waterfront of Lunenburg in search of a potential area where a new artificial reef could sit on the Atlantic ocean floor. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

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Angelopoulos was one of four Nova Scotia divers who recently travelled to the site of the sunken HMCS Saguenay. The steel warship was turned into an artificial reef when it settled onto the bottom of the ocean floor in the summer of 1994.

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Now, more than two decades later, work is underway to expand the Saguenay diving site by reefing another former warship nearby.

“The Cormorant itself, that’s been sitting in Bridgewater forever. I always thought that’d be an amazing option. I don’t want to say it’s an eyesore for Bridgewater, but other people have definitely said that and this could be a great solution to get it off the port there and into the ocean, spawning marine life — and local divers,” Angelopoulos said.

READ MORE: Local MP applauds as coast guard works to secure derelict ship from N.S. river

The Cormorant is a former Royal Canadian Navy dive vessel that’s been docked on the LaHave River in Bridgewater since 2000.

According to information from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the derelict vessel was built in Italy in 1963 and acquired by the Canadian Department of National Defense in July 1975.

The Cormorant was decommissioned in 1997 and exchanged hands through a few companies before being sold to the Port of Bridgewater for a nominal sum. It’s been secured in its current location on the LaHave River since 2000.

At the end of June, the Canadian Coast Guard issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to have the steel vessel towed and scrapped.

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The RFP process closes on Aug. 10 but a group of divers from the Nova Scotia Underwater Council (NSUC) and members of Canadian Artificial Reef Consulting hope the vessel doesn’t get scrapped at all.

Instead, they want to see the ship turned into a new artificial reef that will accompany the HMCS Saguenay.

“There’s nothing like dropping underwater, going down 60, 70, 80 feet and all of a sudden seeing a military frigate coming into focus,” Angelopoulos said.

Recently, a small group of divers with the NSUC scouted out a potential location for the Cormorant.

“That was a flat ocean bottom. It’s completely flat, there’s nothing down there except scallop shells, a bit of seaweed, there aren’t even any rocks,” diver David Pate said.

Cormorant
If the proposal is successful, this derelict Royal Canadian Navy warship would be sunk and reefed next to the HMCS Saguenay. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

Pate says the scouting trip was successful and video they recorded from the dive will be included in a proposal the group is putting together for submission.

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Angelopoulos says the process of reefing a ship is extremely complex and strict environmental standards must be met throughout the entire project.

“It is a huge benefit when it’s cleaned properly to give a home for marine life and vegetation, and when we go on the Saguenay, we see it. That’s an old military vessel that is now covered in sea life and making a home for all kinds of vegetation, lobsters, fish, seals, everything,” he said.

Angelopoulos says information gathered from the scouting trip will be used in finalizing a formal proposal to have the Cormorant turned into an artificial reef, instead of scrapped.