A CAMPAIGN has been launched to push the government to use ex-naval ships as artificial reefs, including one off Weymouth.

Weymouth and Portland Wreck to Reef (W2R) is trying to secure two ships to use in its artificial reef, which would also be a diving attraction. But it says other coastal communities could benefit from creating underwater sanctuaries.

It has started a petition in order to gather support.

W2R is a non-profit group originally set up to sink a warship off the Dorset coast as an artificial reef.

That vision has developed into plans to create a square kilometre area off Ringstead with two vessels and other inert material to create a reef sanctuary that it is hoped will be the first of many in the UK.

A lobster restocking reef was laid last March and baby lobsters donated by the National Lobster Hatchery will be released this summer.

Now all the permissions are in place, W2R is now looking at ways of funding the purchase of the two ships. One way being investigated is a ‘deed of gift’ from the government and an epetition has been launched in order to gather support.

The group’s Neville Copperthwaite said: “It has been suggested that Weymouth and Portland Wreck to Reef now has a blueprint that should be adopted across the whole of the United Kingdom.

“The jewel in the crown of these reef sanctuaries is of course the once jewels of our naval history, our warships. Our ex-naval ships could be cleaned and made ready responsibly here in the UK and would help create much-needed habitat for our ailing marine environments and bring decades of revenue to our coastal communities.

“The UK is sadly out of step with the rest of the world with regards to giving ships as ‘deeds of gifts’ to any organisation.”

Mr Copperthwaite added: “It is essential that we now shout as loudly as we can and let not just divers but anyone who believes in artificial reefs know what we have achieved already and what we still have to do. With support from a national level it is quite possible that in a very short period of time, those ex-naval warships that are rotting away in Portsmouth could help generate tens of millions of pounds for coastal communities from Portland Bill to Skegness.”

Sign the petition at wrecktoreef.co.uk/ e-petition.