01/05/2015 11:10 EST | Updated 03/07/2015 05:59 EST

Artificial reef from HMCS Annapolis to be sunk in Howe Sound

After years of anticipation — and plenty of controversy — a group of diving enthusiasts is preparing to sink a 366-foot warship in Howe Sound to create an artificial reef.

HMCS Annapolis will be towed to Halkett Bay off Gambier Island on Jan. 13, and is expected to be sunk on the morning of Jan. 17.

"What's left of the vessel is really just the hull, just the skeletal hull and perhaps the aluminum superstructure," president of the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. Howard Robins told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

"What's done with the rest of the ship is re-purposing — and that's an important distinction — we re-purpose these ships as long term, stable marine habitats."

The society planned to sink the ship in 2012, but the vessel required more inspections, and the society required federal permits.

Executive Director of the Georgia Strait Alliance Christianne Wilhelmson said the environmental issues with the ship haven't fully been resolved, and raised concerns about the impact of toxic chemicals found on the ship.

"It's right near a marine park, so we truly question the benefits," she told The Early Edition.

The Artificial Reef Society of B.C. maintains the ship has been cleaned of any pollutants and is in compliance with federal regulations. 

Robins said the reef will become a habitat for marine species, as other artificial reefs around B.C. have.

"You can't deny that when you dive on some of these artificial reefs you see a vibrant ecosystem at work," he said.

He gave the example of the G.B. Church, the first vessel sunk by B.C.'s Artificial Reef Society. The 175-foot coastal freighter has been at the bottom of the ocean near Sidney since 1990, and Robins said it's now home to more than 110 species.

"We see predators on the vessel, we see evidence of birth growth and mortality of successive generations of marine life, shells in corners all over the place. It's just a busy area."

According to the Artificial Reef Society of B.C., HMCS Annapolis will become the largest artificial reef in the Greater Vancouver area.

To hear more about the preparation for sinking HMCS Annapolis to create an artificial reef, click the audio labelled: Destroyer to be sunk in Howe Sound for artificial reef.