Rosarito Underwater Park is Coming

But then so is Christmas coming
BY: REN DRAKE HILL

More than 300 citizens, politicians, and dignitaries attended All Aboard! the pre-sinking festivities for the Mexican Naval patrol vessel Uribe 121, which will live on in infamy at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. If it ever gets there, it will be the first vessel to be intentionally sunk in Northwestern Mexico.

For the past year this ship has been undergoing a complete cleansing in the Port of Ensenada, so that it does not endanger underwater flora and fauna (plants and fishies), as it becomes the keystone of the new Rosarito underwater park to be located off Puerto Nuevo. The sinking, originally scheduled for last April, was moved to next November. Something about proper wave currents and taking longer to clean than expected. No kidding.

Labeled a new diving adventure, the underwater park expects to draw divers and tourists to Rosarito, not only from the United States, but from the world over. In addition to providing a great destination for divers, the underwater park will provide the science community with a field laboratory for the study of sea life, climate, and tides.

With pomp and circumstance usually reserved for great luminaries, the ceremony featured the Mexican marines in their dress whites, local politicians, and the people who made this event possible, including Richard Long, diver, project leader, and Director of California Ships to Reefs board of directors. In addition to this humble writer, the ceremony was covered by the local and state television stations and many newspapers; everyone thanking everyone for making this day possible, yada yada yada, and not that anything actually happened on this day. 

In view of the docked Princess cruise ship, its passengers wondering just what the big deal on this tarmac was, all in attendance were encouraged to don life vests and hard hats to tour the ship with the reminder to try to imagine being under water and examining all of the exposed nooks and crannies of this retired vessel as a diver would. But there were no barnacles on it yet, of course.

A project billed as “of all and for all” came down to a “battle royal” between Ensenada and Rosarito, each trying to get the vessel (and the revenues it will bring) for their own.

Richard Long explained to the audience that our oceans are suffering. This artificial reef benefits the ocean, but takes money and commitment, he said. The positive income stream from this one project will outlive us all he said.

The survival rate for fish is actually higher in an artificial reef environment that in a natural one and they are recycling the tough to recycle, such as ships and statuary. Artificial reefs are being created all over the world in hopes of reversing some of the damage we’ve all done to the underwater environs.

The Uribe 121, named for a fallen hero of the Mexican Navy, Second Lieutenant Virgilio Uribe, was built in Spain in the 1960’s and has five sister ships still in service in Mexican waters. A fire on the bridge caused the boat to be pulled from commission. When plans were made to scuttle the vessel, ecologists suggested turning it into an artificial reef.

Ships to Reefs International is overseeing the massive undertaking, which has been in the works for eight years. In addition, Baja California Divers, a group of Tijuana divers, has been promoting this reef project, and made the original request to the Mexican Navy for the patrol boat. All loose materials have been removed, and the hull has been scoured to international standards set by Ships to Reefs International. Bacteria were introduced to oil compartments, and after three months the oily sludge was rendered into water.

Organizations, such as Ships to Reefs in San Diego are working to bring more ships to this area. The park not only benefits the economy with the creation of new jobs, but promotes a positive view of Rosarito and our progressive view of science and ecology. And this presents a boon to the local fishing industry, as studies done in Japan have shown that after reefs are created there were remarkably more fish caught in the area bottom line: reefs equal fish.  Species that will thrive in this environment include coral, sponges, and other sessile organisms such as barnacles. Yup, we have a lot of fisherpeople searching for sponges and barnacles all right.

In November, God willing, this decrepit, empty, 70 meter-long hulk of gray metal will be safely sunk offshore (N32o.12’.596” x W116o56’.001”) by exploding a few well-placed charges.  It will be positioned in a way that divers of many abilities, including free divers, may enjoy.

There will be four main components to the Uribe. The sinking of concrete sculptures in the bow area are to simulate an “underwater art gallery” sculpture garden, and will be at a depth of 23 to 33 feet.

A tribute to the Titanic will be created with reproductions of pieces of the ill-fated luxury liner being placed on the ship at a depth of 33 to 66 feet. This also pays homage to the movie of the same name, partially shot a few kilometers from the underwater site.

Mid ship is the pre-Hispanic Atlantis sculpture collection including archeological reproductions of Olmec heads, Aztec calendars,  pre-Hispanic gods, and pyramids, ranging at depths of 49 to 82 feet.

The aft end is designated as the ship graveyard at a depth of 82 to 98 feet, originally the ship’s machine shop and helicopter pad.

A museum within the Puerto Nuevo lobster village will offer the land lubber public a view of real time underwater events through the placement of five underwater video cameras placed aboard the ship.

Future plans include the sinking of more vessels in this area. Funds are still needed to help cover initial and on going costs of the underwater park so for more information, or to donate to the Uribe 121 project, please go to: www.facebook.uribe121; www.facebook.com/parquesubmarinorosarito;  bajacaliforniadivers1@gmail.com; www.rosaritoundeerwaterpark.com; contact@rosaritounderwaterpark.com.