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Sunken tugboats buoy hopes for new Atlantic reef

Posted May 11

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— Just as the sun peeks out over the Morehead City horizon, Robert Purifoy readies his dive boat Olympus for another day on the water.

But this day isn't just for a charter fishing run: When Purifoy makes it back to shore, he'll have sunk two tugboats just off the coast—under meters of blue Atlantic waters—that he hopes will bring new life to the ocean floor.

Purifoy organized the project to sink the boats in hopes of creating a new reef to attract fish and tourists to the North Carolina coast.

"(The boats) will be near another artificial reef," said diver Cindy Garb. "So, we are expanding an artificial reef system we have here near Morehead City."

It's been nearly a decade since North Carolina scuttled a ship to to create an off-shore artificial reef. Before the boats could be sent to the deep blue, though, they had to be cleaned up, stripped of any hazardous materials like fuel, oil and asbestos, and, of course, get through plenty of environmental regulations.

Funding for the project came from private donations as well as state funding and diver-themed vehicle license plates. Organizers are planning to sink another tugboat later this year.

"I feel good," Purifoy said. "A big part of the community came together to make this happen."

The reef will be named in honor of James Francesconi, a longtime state employee who oversaw the reef program for four years before losing his battle with Leukemia.

"It's going to be a very large memorial to him, as it should," Purifoy said.

So, with everything in place, the valves opened and the Atlantic Ocean rushed in. Watch seven angles of the boats sinking into the ocean.

Like a new jungle gym on a school playground, the old tugs will give recreational divers a place to play, and eventually fish will inhabit all the little nooks and crannies.

"More places for fishermen to fish, more places for divers to dive, more place for fish to congregate, and more habitat," Purifoy said.

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  • Demute Sainte May 11, 2016
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    Purifoy runs a great dive operation. I've enjoyed many a day diving from his boats. Cheers!