A sunk sub makes for more fish in the sea

By: Marty Wentzel

The good ship Carthaginian went down without a fight, but clients can still see the 97-foot steel-hulled vessel in her new home under the sea.

Filled with water and sunk by Atlantis Adventures on Dec. 13, the former floating tourist attraction is adopting a new role as an artificial reef, providing a novel sight for passengers aboard Atlantis Submarines Maui as well as independent scuba divers.

Originally a German freight carrier, the Carthaginian was converted into a replica of a whaling supply vessel and put on display in Lahaina Harbor in 1973. Owned by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, she attracted thousands of visitors who toured and photographed the West Maui landmark over the years. After a study determined that a refurbishment of the beloved ship was costprohibitive, the foundation approached Atlantis in 2003 about buying it for use as an artificial reef.

Atlantis Submarines Maui general manager Jim Walsh said his company incorporated community input and took all the needed precautions during its two years of planning, making sure the artificial reef provides lasting benefits to marine life.

“As stewards of the environment that Atlantis works in, we’ve been committed to doing this project the right way,” Walsh said. “The artificial reef will have a very positive impact on Lahaina’s marine life.”

Before the sinking, I joined an Atlantis submarine tour off Maui’s western shores, whose clear waters provide excellent viewing of dozens of types of sea creatures. After shuttling our group 10 minutes from Lahaina Harbor on the open-air vessel Holokai, pilot Brian Ott helped us aboard the Atlantis IV, a 65-foot 48-passenger air-conditioned sub with 38,000 dives to its credit.

During the tour, my fellow passengers and I were regaled with lively patter about the denizens of the deep swimming by. As long-nosed butterflyfish and Moorish idols made appearances, an Atlantis copilot shared information and answered questions, occasionally spicing up the presentation with music.

Visions of moray eels, parrotfish and unusual shapes of coral had clients eagerly leaning forward to peer through the sub’s windows. Six lights on either side of the vessel made it easy to ogle the undersea splendors.

“Sometimes we see manta rays and dolphins,” Ott said. “The marine life down here isn’t afraid of the sub at all. As a matter of fact, they’re curious about us. We’ve even had humpback whales swim right up and rub against us.”

The trip was so entertaining, I wondered why Atlantis felt the need to add the sunken Carthaginian to its itinerary.

“There are two things people always want to see during our tours shipwrecks and sharks,” said Ott. “At least we have control over shipwrecks. Also, turtles gravitate to shipwrecks, so we hope they’ll be attracted to the Carthaginian.”

Ott talked about the Carthaginian’s new home, a sandy-bottomed site a half-mile offshore between Puamana Park and Launiapoko Park.

“The ship is anchored 95 feet under the surface, which is a better depth for scuba divers than our current, deeper site,” he said.

The location, which does not impact swimming and surfing, helps alleviate overuse of natural reefs along the Lahaina coastline, Ott added.

In an area currently devoid of coral reef, the sunken Carthaginian will develop into a self-sustaining habitat that increases the numbers of fish, coral and other marine life in the area.

“Atlantis staff and local marine biologists will be keeping watch over the shipwreck to track the benefits of the artificial reef and the types of creatures that it attracts,” he said, noting that Hawaii’s Land and Natural Resources department approved the project based on a detailed environmental impact statement.

Atlantis Adventures has already successfully created artificial reefs off Waikiki using a Navy tanker, former fishing vessel and large sections from two airplanes.

“Before the Waikiki artificial reefs, there was very limited fish and marine activity in that area,” said Atlantis Adventures president Ronald Williams. “Today, we see a vibrant ecosystem at work supporting all types of indigenous fish, coral, sea turtles and other marine life.”

Along with Maui and Oahu, Atlantis offers submarine tours off Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island.

The Details

The 90-minute tour includes 45 minutes under water.
Rates are $84 per adult and $42 per child (36 inches to 12 years).

Tours depart Lahaina Harbor’s Slip 18 daily at
9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

For the 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. tours only, shuttle transportation is available from west Maui resorts for an additional $23 per person; the shuttle from South Maui costs $38.

Atlantis also sells packages pairing a submarine ride with another Maui activity, such as a luau, helicopter tour or whale watch. Groups can
charter the 48-seat submarine for $3,300 per hour.

Atlantis Submarines Maui
658 Front St., Suite 175
Lahaina, HI 96761

Commission: 15 percent