The sunken Carthaginian now thrives as an artificial reef off Lahaina, Maui. // © 2011 Atlantis Submarines
In 2003, when Atlantis Submarines heard of plans to scuttle the rusting Carthaginian whaling ship far out at sea, it swung into action. Recognizing an eco-friendly opportunity, the tour company acquired the vessel — once a popular floating museum on Maui — with the idea of giving it a more noble retirement as an artificial reef.
Two years later, under Atlantis’ care, a team of experts carefully sunk the 97-foot steel-hulled Carthaginian one-half-mile off Lahaina’s shores, where it now rests on a sandy bottom in 95 feet of water. The location was specifically chosen because it lacked coral reefs and marine life in the area.
Since its sinking five years ago, the Carthaginian has become a thriving artificial reef and self-sustaining habitat for a variety of creatures. During an Atlantis submarine tour, clients can see an abundance of colorful fish that are using the Carthaginian to grow, reproduce and avoid predators. The vessel’s surfaces are encrusted with plant and animal life tended by plankton-eating fish.
“Thankfully, we were able to keep the Carthaginian here in Lahaina where she belongs, but she is now serving a greater purpose as an artificial reef for fish and other marine life to flourish,” said Jim Walsh, general manager of Atlantis Submarines Maui. “It’s a fantastic story about the benefits of environmental sustainability that only gets better with each passing day.”
According to Walsh, artificial reefs increase the biomass of marine life by providing young fish with a place to grow, serving as a replenishment area for fish to congregate and creating a solid substrate for coral to take hold and grow. Atlantis sees artificial reef development as part of a larger global effort supporting ocean conservation, which includes expanding coastal resources and practicing responsible tourism.
Atlantis has experienced similar success with the artificial reefs installed off the shores of Waikiki two decades ago. An undersea area of Waikiki that was once sparsely populated with fish is now teeming with activity.
Clients can view the Carthaginian during an Atlantis tour in a technologically-advanced battery-powered non-polluting passenger submarine. Seating 48 passengers in an air-conditioned cabin with large viewing ports on either side, the vessel provides a safe eco-friendly excursion that carries guests to depths of 150 feet.
Atlantis Submarines Maui offers six undersea tours daily, departing from Lahaina Harbor each hour from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.