The Kodiak Queen, formerly U.S. Navy barge YO-44, is becoming a new BVI dive site. Sponsoring the endeavor is Project YoKo BVI Art Reef, a collaboration between Sir Richard Branson and other BVI stakeholders. The Kodiak Queen is being sunk off the coast of Virgin Gorda in March. Uniquely, the ship will be wrapped in a giant kraken sculpture, made of rebar and mesh.
The Kodiak Queen launched in 1940 as U.S. Navy fuel barge YO-44, and is one of only five ships that survived the Pearl Harbor attack. As the Kodiak Queen, the ship began a new life as a fishing boat. Historian Mike Cochran found the ship rusting in a Road Town junkyard in 2012. He set up a website in an effort to rescue the ship, and got some famous attention. Owen Buggy, a friend of and photographer for Sir Richard Branson, saw the site and suggested the ship as an artificial reef. The project soon began.
The future of the Kodiak Queen
The Kodiak Queen will be a platform for coral restoration, featuring coral planting on its art sculptures. There will be a coral garden on deck and an “eDNA” research area to monitor the impact of artificial reefs. Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is an inexpensive and non-invasive way to collect DNA and monitor marine species. Scientists will use the information to monitor the area’s repopulation of large predators, including sharks and the now-rare goliath grouper.
The Kodiak Queen as underwater art gallery
The website for the initiative invites visitors to imagine the dive site’s possibilities, asking ‘‘What if…a WWII warship could mobilize a global network of researchers, philanthropists and artists…to solve marine health problems through the power of play?”
With that in mind, an underwater art gallery will include the kraken, with its 80-foot (24m) arms, and other art installations. There will also be a a swim-, dive- and ocean-education program for British Virgin Islands’ youth, hoping to foster the next generation of ocean ambassadors.
In a recently released statement, Sir Richard Branson said, “This project provides an exciting opportunity to capture people’s attention and then to refocus it on important issues facing our oceans.”
“For example, the importance of addressing global warming to protect our coral reefs and the need to rehabilitate vulnerable marine species such as severely overfished grouper populations.”
Divers can visit the site within two months and can swim through the boat structure and the kraken.