Michael Almyer of Tourism Port Stephens recently advised us that a bid had been made to obtain a retired Naval vessel to be sunk off our coastline to create a dive-site. Such sites have have added to the attractions at other prime Tourist locations with significant economic benefits to their local economies.
Signifigant research has been undertaken in relation to environmental and financial aspects of this proposal and Tourisim Port Stephens intends to undertake communituy consultation prior to implementaion of this initiative. As a preliminary step Michael Almyer has agreed to outline this proposal to the next TRRA General Meeting on Monday 14 November. Members will have an opportunity to ask questions and when more detail has been provided will need to consider our position.
TRRA GENERAL MEETING 14 NOVEMBER 2011
Michael Aylmer, Chairman of Port Stephens Tourism made a presentation to last night’s TRRA General Meeting in which he outlined their proposal to obtain a decommissioned naval vessel to be sunk off Port Stephens to form an artificial reef for divers. A submission has been made to the Commonwealth Government to secure one of the vessels which are to be disposed of in the near future.
Michael pointed out that the Commonwealth is looking at options which would result in recovery of some funds from the disposals, but if this is not achieved, there may be a possibility of securing the stripped down hulk for sinking as a dive site.
Port Stephens Tourism has examined the outcome of similar dive site projects off the Sunshine Coast, Port Phillip Bay, in Western Australia and more recently off Avoca. In each case the vessels have become very popular dive sites with major spin off for the local tourist economy.
Preliminary discussions have been held with local interest groups including EcoNetwork, Recreational Fishers, the Business Chamber and TRRA. The response has been positive. The Marine Parks Authority has also been supportive of the proposal subject to its meeting the requirements of environmental regulations and safeguards.
Michael stressed that the project was in its early stage and that there was competition from other tourist destinations. More detailed research and consultation with the community would be undertaken once there was an indication that their bid may succeed.
Questions from the floor related to the environmental impact, the potential cost impact on the local community and the economic benefits associated with dive related activity.
Reference was made to the concerns raised on the Central Coast in relation to the sinking of the HMAS Adelaide off Avoca. Michael said that there are very stringent standards applied to decommissioning which required the removal of all equipment and toxic substances even if the vessel was to be sold to breakers overseas. He also said that careful planning would be necessary to select a site with a sandy bottom and suitable currents to avoid movement of the hulk once it was sunk. The vessel would be positioned to allow free flow of the sea current around the hull and to avoid creation of any negative impact at the shoreline. The early preference is for a site somewhere between Tomaree Headland and Broughton Island. There appears to be no evidence of environmental objections associated with existing dive sites which have been in position for some time.
Michael advised that their submission made it clear that Port Stephens would not be prepared to fund the preparation of the vessel for sinking or the placement of the hulk. Accordingly, no costs would be passed on to ratepayers. An ongoing management arrangement would be required to ensure safety of the operation and this may be through Port Stephens Tourism. Dive boat operators would have to be licenced and pay suitable fees. Divers would also pay fees.
The dive site would become part of the overall infrastructure for tourism in Port Stephens and divers can be expected to spend in the locality on accommodation, food and the usual range of visitor goods and services. The point was made that divers tend to continue to visit in the off-season and mid-week which would help mitigate the seasonality problem of tourism in the Port Stephens locality. While day visits may be a major component of the market, divers like to follow a trail of sites over a period and this would result in overnight stays.
Prepared by Geoff Washington