Published On: Wed, Apr 5th, 2017

The development of a new mega pier on Curaçao threatens one of the Caribbean’s most popular wrecks

WILLEMSTAD - Regularly voted as one of the best wreck dives in the Caribbean – and among the best in the world – the wreck of the  Superior Producer is under threat from the development of a new cruise ship ‘megapier’.

Curaçao, with its colourful and vibrant capital of Willemstad, is a popular destination for Caribbean cruises – however, the existing pier is too small to accommodate the largest class of modern cruise ships, some of which are over 300m in length.

As a result, the local government has pressed ahead with the construction of a second pier, despite objections from the island’s dive community and conservation groups. The location of the pier means that cruise ships will be moored almost directly on top of the Superior Producer, potentially causing untold damage to one of the Caribbean’s best loved wrecks and, indeed, rendering it completely inaccessible to divers.superior_producer_1000

Diving the wreck is already prohibited when a cruise ship arrives at the existing dock for securty and safety reasons. However, local divers fear that after the new larger pier is built nearby all diving to the wreck will be off limits.

The  Curaçao Port Authority had ‘agreed in principle’ to allow shore diving once the pier is completed, - but has refused recently to make that a firm guarantee that this will indeed will be allowed. And there is no reference to allowing diving in the latest development plan.

Aside from accessibility issues, cruise ships of this size have a draft of up to 10m (30ft). The wreck of the Superior Producer sits in approximately 30m (100ft) of sea water and rises to just over 21m (70ft )– leaving a clearance of only 12m (40ft). The prop-wash from these giant ships as they manoeuvre into port over the Superior Producer will undoubtedly cause significant damage to the 50-year old wreck.

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Furthermore, there is no barrier to the digging and dredging and hence run-off from the construction, which is only in its early days, is already damaging the otherwise very healthy reef. Concrete dust from early excavation can clearly be seen running through the coral in the picture above.

An economic assessment puts the value of the marine tourism at approximately $375.3 million per year, as reported by the Curaçao Chronicle in October 2016. Dr Katheryn Mengerink, executive director of the Waitt Institute, who performed the assessment, stated that ‘the beauty of Curacao's sea, and all that lives under the sea, including the coral reefs, deserve proper protection under the law such that this precious resource could continue to contribute to the prosperity of the island.’

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Cruise tourism is by no means new but is becoming increasingly popular, and the environmental impact of such large vessels can be no more clearly demonstrated than the recent destruction of a coral reef in Raja Ampat, when a cruise ship ran aground at low tide.

Back on Curaçao, while the new pier catering to the larger ships will undoubtedly increase the revenue generated by cruise tourism, the islanders are left wondering what financial impact the pier will have on dive tourism, what the cost of the inevitable damage to the environment, and what the ultimate fate of the Superior Producer will be.

By Mark 'Crowley' Russell for divemagazine.co.uk

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