See the care necessary when sinking vessels to create artificial reefs

  • 15/04/2021
  • 10 minutes

Artificial reefs are a creative solution to give purpose to vessels that no longer have a useful life. It is an idea to help promote tourism and marine biology studies near the coast.

Therefore, Wilson Sons has already supported a lot of projects of this type in Brazil. For you to understand a little more about what this procedure is and its benefits, we will clarify any doubts you may have about the subject.

To explain why and how it is possible to sink vessels and create new reefs, we invite Wilson Sons’ environmental specialist, Camila Pereira Felipe, and Wilson Sons tug commercial director, Jonathan Dumphreys. Follow!

What reasons lead companies and institutions to sink vessels?

“Sinking is not a shipwreck”, points out the environmental specialist and biologist, Camila Pereira Felipe. “Shipwrecks are accidents, since those vessels that are sunk are planned events, they are elected for a noble purpose”, she explains.

The sinking of a vessel as an artificial reef contributes to the preservation and sustainable use of the oceans, one of the Sustainable Development Goals foreseen by the UN in the Global Compact. The initiative symbolizes the preservation of healthy social and environmental relationships. The structure of an artificial reef favors the fixation of life, in environments with a sandy bottom the fixation of marine life is much more difficult. The sunken vessels increase fishing productivity, tourism and at the same time protect biodiversity by preventing overfishing with the use of trawls on the seabed.

The biologist and environmental specialist, Camila Pereira Felipe, points out that this process is truly relevant for life and maritime protection. “The artificial reef, which can be formed by tugboat hulls, creates an environment conducive to creating and protecting marine life. Species seek these points of attachment and reception. And the vessel is being colonized and becoming “alive”. “ 

For Camila, this also increases the useful life of that hull, which, as a tugboat is around 30 years on average, but as a reef, after retirement, it can still collaborate for many years with marine life.

According to experts, the motivation for the process can be varied:

  • give purpose to vessels that are no longer viable for commercial use
  • encourage underwater tourism (as is done in Recife)
  • prevent trawling in areas to be protected
  • encourage local fishing, since the amount of life and fish in the area is increased, reducing the need for fishermen to make large displacements
  • encourage and facilitate scientific research (since reefs are rich in marine biodiversity)

What types of ships are used in the process?

Wilson Sons works with tugboats in the creation of artificial reefs, a type of vessel very suitable for this purpose. As the commercial director, Jonathan Dumphreys, points out, it is a way of giving a useful end to society and the environment after it is no longer useful for the market.

He ponders that the tug has a useful life of some decades and can reach 60 years of use. But in a commercial context, it becomes economically unviable before that.

“Over time, maintenance becomes very expensive, the tug no longer meets the necessary maneuvers, or its structure is out of date for the implementation of new technologies”, details Jonathan. At this point, the decision is made to disable the fleet unit, and the artificial reef is an interesting alternative to simple disposal.

How does sinking occur?

From the time the sinking is decided until its execution, 2 years can pass between licensing and tug preparation. To sink the vessel, it is mandatory to remove all living (sharp) corners, polluting materials (oils and fuels, batteries, lamps, paints), oil, dye and those that may float, such as plastic, wood, and glass. The idea is that only the solid steel hull will submerge.

It is also necessary to define the objective for which the procedure is being performed. That is, if it is research, protection or control, recreational diving activity, or even if it is to make artificial funds.

The legislation is strict, and the work requires studies and approval with the bodies responsible for environmental conservation and maritime safety, such as Ibama and the Brazilian Navy, respectively. “Wilson Sons started this project with two collaborators who were also divers, showing a deep respect for the sea, which serves as a job”, comments Camila.

Every artificial reef is installed to serve one or more purposes, which can be, for example, support for fishing, protecting, and recovering biodiversity, recreational diving, and scientific research.

These purposes are all defined by Organs responsible bodies in accordance with the legislation so that artificial reefs do not pose risks to existing natural habitats and navigation.

With all this preparation completed, the execution itself is relatively simple, fast, and safe. A tug takes the vessel to the defined location. There, just open the seacock and the tug naturally submerges. The Wilson Sons vessels sunk to date rest between 25 and 48 meters in depth, where they serve easy access for both tourism, fishing, and scientific studies.

What care should be taken when creating artificial reefs?

As our experts tell us, sinking vessels is a process that, well coordinated, can be safe and simple, provided that all safety measures and regulatory requirements have already been considered. Therefore, the greatest care is in preparing and organizing the project, so that there is no harm to the environment or to economic and academic activities in the region.

An example that the director of Wilson Sons gives us is about removing the paint used on some of these vessels: “Many years ago, the paint could have ingredients to prevent the formation of barnacles. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was found to be harmful to the environment and new paints began to be manufactured. But some old boats, from another time, could still have.”

The removal of parts from the ship to be sunk is also a point of attention. No moving element can sink with it, especially of materials other than steel.

It is a meticulous process that requires procedures for removal and correct destination for these elements. Especially the removal of oil is a focus of attention since the permanence of any residue can contaminate water and life in that area.

But if there is a point on which the experts agree, it is that, with due care and following the legislation, sinking vessels is an incredible strategy for research, market, and tourism. On the one hand, it gives a beautiful and useful continuity for vessels that will no longer be used commercially. On the other hand, it encourages the economy of a region, fosters tourism and fishing, and facilitates the study of marine species in great diversity.

In this sense, we can say that artificial marine reefs are another proof of Wilson Sons’ commitment and responsibility. We have been helping Brazil’s maritime development for 180 years and using our position to help Brazilian society and the market.

How about knowing more about our projects, our advances, and our mission? Enter the site now and discover our history!