Gary MacDonald still remembers the first time his father took him water skiing at Halkett Bay in Howe Sound. He instantly fell in love with the pristine bay and kept coming back to enjoy swimming, camping, kayaking and picnicking - with his children and then his grandchildren.
Now 42 years later, he is spearheading an effort to prevent a ship from being sunk to form an artificial reef that will be used as a diving attraction. More than three hundred people have signed his protest petition opposing the sinking of the ship and the commercialization that will likely follow.
"This is a fabulous, fabulous place," said Mr. MacDonald of the provincial marine park on the southeastern shore of Gambier Island, 15 kilometres from Horseshoe Bay and 40 kilometres from marinas in Vancouver.
Last year, the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia bought the decommissioned 371-foot warship formerly known as HMCS Annapolis DDH-265.
Earlier this month, it completed the selection of Halkett Bay as the location to sink the ship. The sunken vessel will create a new marine habitat in the bay and should attract dive tourism, which is precisely the reason it has drawn the ire of locals.
Mr. MacDonald said Halkett Bay will change from a place used by families to swim, paddle, row, sail, fish, boat, camp and anchor to a diving site run by commercial interests with hundreds of customers.
Howard Robins, president of the artificial reef society, said there is no infrastructure to support such a large number of divers in the area.
He acknowledged that the project is aimed at scuba divers, but said the society is an environmental group that is helping to create a new ecosystem in the bay. "We have come to recognize that certain areas can benefit by an artificial reef," Mr. Robins said.
Not everyone agrees. "It's ocean dumping," said Scott Wallace, sustainable fisheries analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation.
Mr. Wallace said it's impossible for a ship of the size of HMCS Annapolis to be cleaned in a way that leaves no toxins. And he's not sold on the idea that artificial reefs make good fish habitat.
"You are not benefiting the system. In fact, you might be modifying what might be there already," he said.
For Mr. MacDonald, safety is another concern. Halkett Bay is a tiny place, he said, and is not suitable for a 371-foot warship. "The ship is going to sit in the middle of the bay. It might be a great thing somewhere else, but not here," he said.
He is concerned that the top of the ship will be exposed at low tide, posing a risk to boaters and swimmers.
Mr. Robins disagrees. "We look for an area that is flat and featureless," he said. Halkett Bay meets the physical and biological requirements to sink a ship, he said, noting that the artificial reef society is working within a framework set up by Environment Canada, Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries.
Transport Canada is reviewing the society's application. Spokesman Rod Nelson said the department will do a navigational review of the area and make a decision after analyzing the risks and receiving feedback from the public.