PLANS to create Majorca's first artificial reef from a decommissioned navy frigate have been given a ringing endorsement by diving businesses on the island.

The project, still in the planning stages and not set to go ahead until September 2006, will transform the Spanish Navy frigate Baleares into an underwater tourist attraction off the Malgrats islands, in Calvia.

Arndt Schmitt, 25, a diving instructor at the Balearics Diving School, has said the proposed reef will attract divers from around Europe and will boost sea life in and around the site. “It's a great thing to have such an impressive dive site in Majorca and it will make the South West of the island even more attractive. The general response from divers I've spoken to has been nothing but positive. It's a brilliant option for the diving community. “As well as the benefits to businesses and communities in the area, the site will allow the sea life to flourish. The site of the reef will be declared a marine sanctuary, which will stop the spear fishing that goes on.” On Thursday the Balearic Government and Calvia council also put their full support behind the project, while environmental groups in Majorca claim the sunken ship will harm the local eco-system.

Greenpeace have said: “In total 4'000 tonnes of scrap will be sunk and contaminating gases released which will damage local sea life.” Stuart Dickson, the managing director of Magalluf's submarine tour company Nemo Submarine, said sinking the ship for use as a reef will have a positive effect on the environment. “The amount of oxygen released from a properly prepared ship like the Baleares is surprising. This helps to oxigenate the area, therefore helping the sea life. By having the frigate as a reef it will also protect the site from over fishing by big trawlers. “Not only will it be good for the environment, but it will be good for tourism in the area. I have had conversations with the manager of the project and supported everything he said. What we're aiming for here at Nemo Submarine is to arrange it so my business can start diving near the reef.” The financial benefit of constructing an artificial reef from a battle frigate was highlighted by the success of a similar project in Plymouth in 2003. Kelvin Boot, director of Britain's National Marine Aquarium, oversaw the conversion of the HMS Scylla and said the local area has been reinvigorated by the increase in diving activity, and reports suggest a one million pound boost to the local economy since the drop.

He said: “Although financial benefits should not be a justification, it has certainly put Plymouth back on the map. When explosions were detonated on the ship to sink it, we had a global television audience of over 100'000 million people. Majorca couldn't buy that kind of publicity.” Supporters of Calvia Council's project are hoping for the same response in Majorca.
Arndt Schmitt, who travels the world instructing, but usually summers in Majorca, is sure that dropping the Baleares off Malgrats will attract divers from around Europe. “The frigate is a very attractive option for divers. Majorca currently lacks a divable attractive ship wreck and people will travel to sites specifically because of their uniqueness. “Due to the strategic location of Majorca, it's ideal for tourism. The warm waters of the Mediterranean are hard to find anywhere in the world.” Calvia Council's reef project is expected to cost approximately 800'000 euros to prepare, with a total budget of 1.6 million euros. Work is not expected to start until late 2006.

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