By Ryan Harrison
THE DIRECTOR of Britain's most successful artificial reef has given a ringing endorsement to plans in Majorca for a reef built from a decommissioned navy frigate. Kelvin Boot, 54, Director of the National Marine Aquarium, helped to oversee the HMS Scylla project in Plymouth which saw the frigate sunk for use as a dive site and has reportedly boosted the local economy by one million pounds since it was dropped in March 2004. Kelvin, who often snorkles in Majorca, said: “You need to carry out thorough preparations before you attempt anything like this and the sea bed where you drop the ship has to be relatively barren. It would be really great in Majorca as the Mediterranean is such a fascinating place.” Plans by Calvia Council to transform the frigate Baleares into an artificial reef off the islands of Malgrats came under renewed attacks this week from environmental groups. Greenpeace claims the ship would create 4'000 tonnes of scrap and damage the local eco system. Kelvin is sure that if the right preparation is done and the site carefully chosen, then there would be little doubt of success similar to the Plymouth project. He said: “It cost us 1.2 million pounds to drop the ship in Plymouth, and a large proportion of that went into preparation. You can't go around dropping battle frigates anywhere you like.” “The extensive preparation we put into the project alleviated a lot of the concerns of the environmental groups we dealt with. In the end we were proved right as there have been no adverse effects.” “Sinking a ship for this purpose is both financially and biologically beneficial. The ship is like a block of flats on the sea bed. Some species like the pent house suite at the top and others like the basement rooms. There are so many little nooks and crannies for sea life to explore, and having the ship down there has created a really diverse habitat. It really enhances the area and is like placing an oasis in a fairly sterile piece of sea bed.” Financially the area is booming as a result of the increase in diving activity. Kelvin said: “We've just had a report out saying that in the first couple of months after opening there were over 1000 dive boats visiting the site. Although financial benefits should not be a justification for building an artificial reef, it's certainly put Plymouth back on the map.” As part of the process of sinking the ship, explosives are detonated at strategic places. It is estimated that when the ship was downed in 2003 a television audience of over 100 million watched from around the world. Kelvin said that Majorca could not buy that kind of publicity. His message to the members of Greenpeace, who have concerns about the Majorca project, is this: “Yes, of course you're right to be concerned about the environment, but you're not always right. Provided the preparation is right there will be little doubt it will be a success and it ought to be a benefit rather than a detriment to the island.” Kelvin was involved throughout the HMS Scylla project and, as director of the National Marine Aquarium since its opening in 1998, still deals with the reef as a biological site and with the increased public interest surrounding the ship. As a dive site the ship is unique and available to divers of all abilities. Kelvin said: “We placed the ship at a slight angle on the sea bed. The front is deeper so more experienced divers have a challenge, but at the back, where it is shallower, the beginners can still join in.” “We get divers from across Europe and we now have cameras set up on board the ship, so those who don't dive can still enjoy what's down there.” “The building of the artificial reef has paid huge dividends to Plymouth, both financially and biologically.”

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