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High Hopes for Deep Water [Gallery]

Clean-up project seeks support

By David Blacklock

The British Virgin Islands can often appear to be a community of varied interests vying with one another for attention. Fishermen have their concerns, as do taxi drivers, charter yacht operators, supermarket workers and so on. In a small community such as this, of course, a Venn diagram of each of these interests would always intersect with all the others, such is the degree of inter-connectedness and interdependence. If the dive operators do well, the so do the taxi drivers, the supermarkets, the hotel owners, the gas stations and the ferry companies.

In a creative and entrepreneurial community such as ours, ideas bubble to the surface and catch the attention of people in many and diverse fields. Such an idea occurred to Nagy Darwish, a surgeon who arrived in the BVI to practice medicine and enjoy the pleasures of the country’s waters, particularly the parts beneath the surface. His experiences diving and his appreciation of the beauty to be found in the depths, contrasted with the views of wrecked cars and abandoned vessels scattered about the island, prompted the thought that it might be practical to take all these wrecks and put them beneath the water, and thus solve two problems at once: what to do with the abandoned vehicles, and how to create more, and more varied, dive sites. Eureka! But further examination made it clear that the costs of preparing vehicles for submersion were prohibitive—all that oil and rubber and asbestos had to be eliminated before they could be dropped into the deep.


But a process had been started. In conversation with friends and colleagues in his Rotary group, Dr. Darwish learned that he wasn’t the only person thinking about this subject. There was concern about the rusting hulks sunk by Hurricane Earl lined up along the waterfront at Baugher’s Bay. Some people were thinking about ways to enhance the attractiveness of the islands to tourists—perhaps a sculpture garden underwater?

The sculpture garden plan had been initiated by Trellis Bay entrepreneur and artist, Aragorn Dick-Read, who had envisaged an underwater feature that would attract tourists and locals alike. Presented to the BVI Dive Operators’ Association, the idea began to take shape. As a way to build up artificial reefs, the sculpture garden has many positive attributes. It serves as a focus for snorkelers and divers, as a revenue enhancer for the territory, as an educational point of focus, and most important, as the basis for new reef structures which create new environments for fish to flourish. I recently spoke with Casey McNutt, president of the Dive Operators’ Association, who told me, “We feel really thankful to Aragorn for trusting us to run this thing.” While there is still discussion regarding the subjects of the sculptures, the consensus seems to lean towards imagery that is iconic for the BVI. As for timing, Casey said, “We’d like to see it up and running for next season. If we can get approval for the project we’ll be able to go ahead and raise the money for it.” And as for location, Cooper Island seems to be getting the nod.

BVI Rotary Club members gather at The Moorings. Photo by Dan O’Connor.

            While the sculpture garden is no slam-dunk, it seems more immediately attainable than the plan to remove and sink the rusting hulks that litter the shoreline around Baugher’s Bay. Any attempt to remove the vessels could be fraught with difficulties since the hulls have been breached and corrosion might cause the hulls to collapse as they are being moved. Furthermore, it seems that squatters have moved aboard and are living on these wrecks, with little effort being made to remove them. The ownership of the wrecks hasn’t been established either, so there may be claims of damage should they be moved. None of these problems is insurmountable, but it will take a concerted, long-term effort of all participants to make it happen. Nor will it be cheap, since the flotation and transportation of fragile hulks will require more than a tug and a length of rope—flotation bags, spill collars and the like will require expertise and funds.

With enthusiastic participants from a variety of sources, such as the Dive Operators—in the person of Casey McNutt,  Dr. Darwish,  Abby O’Neal and Charlotte McDevitt from Green VI, and with the support the members of Rotary,  His Excellency the Governor, Boyd McCleary; Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Dr. Pickering; members of the Conservation and Fisheries Dept, members of the Tourist Board and others, the plan has a real hope of, stage-by-stage, coming to fruition. Who could object to a plan that simultaneously kills two birds and hatches a third (or is that a fourth)?


Of course, a clever idea is worth nothing unless there is effort behind it to bring it to life. Such is the position at the moment—the effort is beginning to gain organization and momentum. Discussions about how to make these things happen and who would be best suited to oversee the effort are underway. What isn’t in doubt is the worthiness of the plans. The principals involved are in a holding pattern as they await decisions from a number of sources. Dr. Darwish is in the UK for an extended period and is actively seeking assistance there. Rotary has a major meeting in May and decisions made there may affect the future of the various concepts. Where the projects go and how they get there will be the subject of further articles as we attempt to follow these promising initiatives to their completion.

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