New reef to make splash

By Samantha Knight - Staff Reporter

Redondo is expected to at- tract scuba divers from all around the world once the first-of-its-kind dive park opens in early 2020.

Over the past few years the City of Des Moines has teamed up with the Washington Scuba Alliance, the Department of National Resources and High- line's own Marine, Science and Technology Center to help de- velop the artificial reef project.

"It's not easy to do something like this, but when you hear the benefits you're going to won- der why they don't put them all over the place," said Des Moines Councilman Matt Mahoney.

Councilman Mahoney, a diver of 15 years himself, said he's used his councilman po- sition and passion for diving to help make this community dream a reality.

State Sen. Karen Keiser, has also played a huge role in the development of the reef.

"She helped the Washington Scuba Alliance get the half a million dollars to do this," Ma- honey said. "Karen loves it (his unique position as a council- man and diver) because I can

speak to the expertise of it." While there are other artifi- cial reefs that exist, this partic- ular one will be ground breaking on many fronts. ‚Ä®

"It's going to put Des Moines on the map by becoming the first of its kind ‚Äď an underwater dive park, unique to the City of Des Moines," said Vice President of the Washington Scuba Alliance, Randy Williams.

It's expected to attract at least three times the number of divers from not only the Pacific Northwest, but from all over the world to Des Moines, Mahoney said.

Des Moines is happy to welcome all the attention that the new dive site is expected to bring from out of town, he said.

"We really want to encourage some of the what we call 'eco- tourism'," Mahoney said. "Peo- ple will come here, they'll ex- plore our dive spots, but they'll stay in our hotels and eat at our restaurants, and it doesn't harm the environment."

The Washington Scuba Alli- ance and the city are still work- ing together for the final pieces on some permitting and then it goes to the Department of Nat- ural Resources for final approv- al.

Councilman Mahoney said the reef should be done by Jan- uary or February of 2020, if not sooner.

What's going to make this reef such a sought-out dive site are some of the unique features that have been incorporated into the design.

A GPS map has been made of the site, and the placement of all the rock structures have already been pinned out.

Phase One will include the removal of any trash/litter that is already down there, and while that's going on, a barge and crane will be us- ing the GPS map to drop the rock structures exactly where they've planned. All of the structures have been specifically designed to help divers from getting lost.

Each reef formation will point either towards the beach, or towards more reef. This will help divers stay within the range of the dive park.

During Phase Two they will install high definition underwater cameras, art pieces and an underwater veteran's memorial.

"There's a lot of us involved that are ex-military so we want to build the veterans memorial to honor the different services. It'll have the bronze shields of all the different services," Williams said.

One of the art pieces, a statue designed by Simon Moore, is a 17-foot-tall structure of a horse's body with a whale tale and a mermaid riding it, Williams said.

At the grand opening of the dive park the city will have a fundraising event at Redondo to spread awareness of the park and to help raise money for the art/underwater cameras.

The underwater cameras will be strategically installed around the dive park in order to connect people above to the world below.

The goal is that the cameras will stream live 24 hours a day online to give anyone the opportunity to experience the dive park for themselves.

"[We want to get to a place where] somebody could just pull it up on the internet and see what's going on," Councilman Mahoney said.

These cameras will also become a great resource for students, especially those studying oceanography and marine biology down at Highline's MaST Center.

"The more real we can make it [for students], the more relevant it becomes," said Marine Biology professor and MaST Center Manager, Rus Higley.

The biggest focus of the artificial reef project has been on environmental enhancement. In order to do that they must create structures that are attractive to marine life.

 "Animals have different expectations. Some like rocky bottoms, some like sandy bottoms, some need crevasses, some like holes, and that's 3D complexity," Higley said.

With 3D complexity brings biological diversity, he said. And that was a big part of the conversation, instead of just a pile of rocks, how can they attract the marine life that they want to attract.

That's where the partnership with the MaST Center comes in. It will provide an educational component to the feature.

"[To put it simply] if you have big rocks, you have big cracks which big fish like. If you have small rocks, you have small cracks which small fish like," Higley said.

The MaST Center will focus on attracting smaller and more juvenile fish because that's what the majority of the dive audience wants. They have already taken a year of baseline data and some predictions have been made about the life that will begin to accumulate.

And expect that the reef will become home to a variety of fish, crabs and sea anemone as well as giant octopuses.

Much of the marine life that is expected to accumulate can already be found in the MaST Center's aquarium where there are more than 300 species of marine life that have been collected from around the Puget Sound.

"The animals will definitely come in, we've proven that before with reef building," Williams said.

Nearby Saltwater State Park had a similar reef installed in the '90s that has since been turned into a Marine Reserve.

Project developers also hope the interest in the new reef will spark a greater awareness of the stress on the Puget Sound marine environment.

Since the early '50s, much of the Puget Sound has be devastated and fished out by industry, Mahoney said.

Williams, who has been diving for almost 50 years, has seen first-hand how the oceans have taken a toll.

"The environment is taking a hit, and I've watched it for years. I've seen some radical changes to the environment and it's disappointing," Williams said.

Efforts being made to restore the Puget Sound will not go unnoticed and will be appreciate for years to come, he said.

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