‘Here’s Bernadette’: Artificial reef project is shipshape

“Just call her Bernadette,” Mark Music said of the 180-foot freighter that will soon be sunk in the ocean to become an artificial reef. The French-named Voici Bernadette translates to “Here is Bernadette.”

Music is helping to organize a fundraising campaign to get the freighter ready for life under the sea. More than $150,000 is needed for the cleanup, hauling and sinking. Already, events have raised a few thousand dollars. Music said his team is exploring corporate sponsorships as well as grants to help defray the costs.

On a recent tour of the freighter, St. Lucie Voice got a glimpse into life on the ship. Bunk rooms still had newspaper cartoons taped to doors. Rusted and banged-up pots and pans lied strewn about the mess. The wheelhouse provided a grand view of what would have been top of the ship. Now, visitors could see down into the almost-empty cargo hold.

All the “nasty stuff” is being removed, said St. Lucie County Coastal Resources Supervisor Jim Oppenborn. McCulley Marine Services was tapped to clean up the ship, which was given to the county by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The federal agency seized the freighter earlier this year after discovering it was being used to run drugs.

Hydraulic fluids and fuel tanks are being removed. Motors, engines and the like are being dismantled and removed. Areas that have been fully stripped are being steam cleaned to ensure no chemical residue remains. “They know what they’re doing,” Oppenborn said of the clean-up crew.

The ship is being monitored and tested to EPA standards, according to Oppenborn. Insulation, wiring, hoses – everything is being tested to make sure it’s safe. If it’s not, it’s removed.

“This is going to make such great fish habitat,” he said surveying the ship while standing in the cargo hold. Oppenborn said he might dive on the reef once its sunk, but he doubts he’ll get too deep into it. “I don’t dive much now,” he said.

Exactly how deep the ship will be when sunk remains to be determined. However, Oppenborn believes shallow divers will be able to reach a portion of the ship while deeper divers would be able to explore more. The freighter will eventually become the home of countless fish and other sealife, including the possibility of corals. And while it will serve as a fish habitat, volunteers are quick to point out that this will be “The People’s Reef” – funded with the help of regular people and open for diving and other recreational pursuits.

“This isn’t just a St. Lucie thing,” Music said of the reef, though it will be sunk off St. Lucie’s coast. “It’s a Treasure Coast thing.”

He said there is little funding coming from the government to make this reef a reality; more community support is needed.

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Area businesses, fishermen and residents interested in supporting efforts to sink this 180-foot freighter can do so through sponsorship and donations, including placing a personalized plaque on the ship to memorialize a friend or loved one. These plaques range in price from $100-$500 and can be considered a tax-deductible donation. For details contact Katrina Collins at Katrina_MMPS@comcast.net; Kathy Green at Littlegreen@yahoo.com or Christa Stone at stonestyle74@gmail.com or visit: https://www.mmpsenvironmental.com/.

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