Sunken treasure off NJ: Crab sculpture to go 80 feet under

Chris Wojcik's horseshoe crab sculpture. (Sandy Bauers / Staff)

Note: Here's an update to the story below that ran in this morning's paper.


Chris Wojcik spent months building a 46-foot long replica of a horseshoe crab.

It’s made of cement, and he lavished attention on every detail, measuring an actual horseshoe crab so he could get the proportions just right. All the spines are there. He had a glass artist make special eyes. (Lit from inside, they glow.)

And later today, he plans to sink the whole thing — the crab and the 50-foot barge it sits stop — off the Jersey coast.

A crane will lower it about 80 feet to the ocean floor, three miles east of Mantoloking.

If you’re saying “Huh?!” right about now, you don’t know Chris Wojcik.

He’s a marine biologist and SCUBA instructor who also is into film-making, photography, guiding adventure travel expeditions … and, lately, turning art projects into reefs.

“It’s just, you know, kind of a challenge,” Wojcik, 44, of Point Pleasant, said recently. “It sort of touches all my passions.”

The idea is that his crab will ultimately be lost, in a way, not only to the depths, but also to legions of algae and mussels and other marine organisms that will obscure the sculpture by attach themselves to it. Ultimately, they should grow into one big thriving underwater community.

The idea is that it will support lobsters. And fish. More than 150 species in all, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which gave the deployment its official nod.

It also is intended to be a destination for SCUBA divers.

So much for the subway cars and other massive metallica that New Jersey has sunk offshore as part of its artificial reefs program to support fish habitat and recreational fishing.

This trumps them all.

Wojcik chose the horseshoe crab because it’s “an icon of the Mid-Atlantic coast. It has basically been around unchanged longer than anything else.”

Not to mention that it was “a great shape for a reef. It has a lot of surface area for algae and mussels to grow on, but it’s also hollow underneath, a great benefit for fish.”

Furthermore, the design of horseshoe crab shells gives them stability in areas of high waves and currents, which might otherwise roll the crab over.

So when it comes to Wojcik’s huge version, “waves an currents should just roll off its back,” he said.

The idea of underwater sculpture is not new.

In Cancun, Mexico, Jason deCaires Taylor has made five-ton sculptures of men, women and children and the sunk them near the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest barrier reef system in the world.

This is, in part, to provide a diversion for aquatic tourists who might, if only because of their sheer numbers, harm the natural reef. But also to encourage the development of more reef on the fake people.

“On the bottom of the ocean, you can come across a lady sitting at a desk,” Wojcik said. But for him, that’s not quite enough.

“I wanted to do something where function and form were both taken into consideration. A solid human form made out of concrete doesn’t have all these interstitial spaces that marine life really like to hide in.”

As for the horseshoe crab shape, he said, “that’s bad ass when it comes to habitat.”

When he wasn’t sculpting, he was raising funds — the project required about $96,000 — and getting help from donors, including the Brielle Chamber of Commerce and a Moorestown company called Reefmakers that has expertise in artificial reefs. Plus Rick Kramer of Brick, who donated the barge. And many others.

The Blue Ocean Insitute is handling the donation angle.

Blue Ocean’s founding president, Carl Safina, met Wojcik a few years ago. The diver came up to Safina after a talk and described his project.

“I was intrigued and delighted by his approach, the creative audacity of it, ” Safina said recently. “The very idea that you would take something so monumental and rather than try to elevate it, which most people do, he’s doing what’s counterintuitive, sinking it to the bottom of the ocean … I thought, if I can help this guy in any way, I will do that.”

This morning, if all goes as planned — they need the weather to be calm so the crab doesn’t sink prematurely — a Tow Boat US boat will ease the barge away from its berth behind the Shipwreck Bar and Grill in Brielle. (Owner Bill Cleary has donated the marina spot all these months.)

Once on site, a crane will lower it slowly to the floor.

Wojcik will be one of the first to dive on it.

He’ll follow it down — the better to get the first and best camera shots of his creation in its new home.

If you want to find the crab, its new address will be at or near longitude 73 59.3, latitude 40 01.7.