San Diego Business Journal Diving Attraction May Generate $1M Annually

San Diego should have a new attraction for divers, marine life and possibly tourist dollars off the coast of Mission Beach this summer.

Although the May sinking of HMCS Yukon, a 366-foot-long Canadian warship, has been postponed, many people locally and worldwide eagerly await the event, according to Gene Broome, executive director of the San Diego Oceans Foundation.

The 15-year-old organization is dedicated to the "stewardship" of the area's marine waters and living creatures.

The ship, which has traveled about 750,000 miles around the world while in service, is tentatively scheduled to be sunk on July 15, Broome said.

The vessel is expected to bring in about $1 million per year in tourist spending, he said.

For 18 months, the HMCS Yukon has been undergoing preparations for the sinking. Volunteers have cleaned the vessel and cut openings that will help sink the ship and allow safe diver access later on, he said.

- Creating A Playground

And An Artificial Reef

The San Diego Oceans Foundation aims to create a "beautiful playground" for divers and an artificial reef for marine life by sinking the Yukon, which is docked at the 24th Street Marine Terminal in National City, Broome said.

The vessel will be sunk about two miles off the coast of Mission Beach near "Wreck Alley." Frequented by divers, the underwater alley consists of smaller ships that have been placed in the area, Broome said. The kelp beds and the Pacific Beach artificial reef will also be nearby.

The site was chosen in part for its depth of about 100 feet, which can accommodate all levels of divers, Broome said.

Currently, marine life and vegetation does not inhabit the site where the ship will rest, Broome said. "There will be marine growth forming and attaching itself to the ship within days."

The Yukon should have some growth when it is open to divers, which will be within a couple of days after the sinking.

Broome expects the ship to generate repeat and word-of-mouth business.

"Because the ship is so large, it's not the type of dive endeavor that you would be able to see all of in a dive or two," Broome said. "In order to examine the entire ship, it would literally take weeks of diving every day."

- Project Costs

Over $1 Million

The $1.2 million project, which was funded by donations and in-kind services, has generated quite a bit of interest around the world, he said.

The sinking will be broadcast on the Internet and is attracting other media attention, Broome said.

"Many people and many businesses will benefit from the tourism coming to the area," he said.

Jay Ferland, president of Dive Connections, Inc., a charter boat company based in Mission Bay, expects the Yukon to have a huge financial impact on local diving businesses for years to come.

As an example, Ferland cited a smaller ship, the Ruby E, which was scuttled several years ago in Wreck Alley. Although that sinking was not as widely publicized as the Yukon event, Ruby E had a big impact on the local dive industry, he said.

- Tool For Training

Student Divers

Because the Yukon is much larger, it can be used for training in which students can experience a "wreck dive," Ferland said, adding that Dive Connections has received inquiries from divers in California, Arizona and other areas.

Others, however, do not share the same sentiments. While the vessel may bring in some business for local dive shops and boat charters, the Yukon may not have such a big impact on tourism or, according to Rod Watkins, president of Scuba San Diego, a local dive guide service.

Although Watkins is excited about the sinking, he is cautious about the potential impact to his business, which has not received any diver interest to date.

He believes there will be a great interest initially, but that it will eventually taper off.

In addition, Watkins has taken a look at the financial impact of a similar project off the coastline of Southern British Columbia. The HMCS Saskatchewan, a 366-foot Canadian warship sunk in 1997, has reportedly generated about $1 million in revenues over three years, he said.

Although he has requested an economic impact report on the Saskatchewan project, Watkins has not received one to confirm the figures.

A 1989 study estimated that an artificial reef, such as the Saskatchewan, would generate about $1 million for each year the reef was in place, according to a spokesperson for the Nanaimo Tourist and Convention Bureau in British Columbia.

Although there is no report to confirm the figures, it is believed that the economic impact has been about $2 million per year, according to the bureau.

Considering the 500,000 divers in the local area, Broome believes that the Yukon will have a strong economic impact.

- Treasure Hunt

To Promote Site

In addition, local businesses can help promote the dive site. Plans are already in place for a treasure hunt promotion. Businesses will offer prizes for divers who can find specially marked silver coins in the vessel.

While this is just one way to attract business, the true impact of the Yukon can only be measured with time.

Still, the project will fulfill the foundation's mission, Broome said.

"Anything that can be done to enhance awareness to the area for diving certainly enhances what we're all about , the protection of the underwater environment."