Christopher Wojcik has always loved the ocean.
The Point Pleasant resident and Jersey Shore native has spent much of his life involved with the ocean, whether it was assisting on his father's charter boat in the British Virgin Islands when he was a kid, or filming sharks for the well-known "Shark Week" documentaries on the Discovery Channel.
But the artist -- who's also a marine biologist and has built habitats for zoos and aquariums, including the San Diego Zoo and the Maine state aquarium -- had a project gnawing at him in the back of his mind: a giant scale model of a horseshoe crab to become part of a reef.
"Horseshoe crabs are an icon of the Mid-Atlantic coast," Wojcik said.
Now, after a summer of working on the project nonstop, the 47-foot scale model of the crab -- which is welded to a pair of 50-foot barges that were donated to the project -- is ready for its deployment to the bottom of the ocean.
"It took six weeks with three of us working seven days a week to finish it," Wojcik said in early December, as he showed off the giant crab, which is moored behind the Shipwreck Grill in Brielle while it awaits its destiny: a home in 80 feet of water on the Axel Carlson Artificial Reef.
Wojcik, who was assisted by Point Pleasant residents Mark Giampietro and Matthew Lees in building the crab, said it is has a rebar skeleton with a 4- to 6-inch coating of concrete that was added in a single pouring of cement that is reinforced with a fiber that is designed to withstand years of ocean currents.
"It's the same formula as that used for reef balls," Wojcik said, referring to the giant concrete structures placed on the state's 15 artificial reef sites. Though Wojcik also is an avid diver and a certified SCUBA instructor, he designed the crab to prevent divers from going underneath it, while creating a haven for lobsters and fish.
He got the idea more than 10 years ago, while doing an interview with Bill Figley, who at the time was one of the lead biologists in New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife and who is the architect of New Jersey's artificial reef program.
"I asked Bill if something like this could be done and he said yes," Wojcik said. The idea percolated for 10 years, Wojcik said, while he was occupied with other projects. But a break in his schedule allowed him to actively pursue the project again last spring.
After consulting with Hugh Carberry, who oversees the state's reef program since Figley's retirement a few year ago, Wojcik embarked on a fundraising campaign to pay for construction of the sculpture.
Now that construction is complete, the logistics of sinking the crab so that it stays upright necessitates the use of a crane, Wojcik said. The cost of the sinking is estimated at $30,000, so he is back in fundraising mode.
"We don't want it to sink prematurely or flip over," he said.
Wojcik, a 1986 graduate of Point Pleasant Beach High School and a 1991 graduate of Monmouth University, said the crab is just the first project. He has thoughts of building a second sculpture of a summer flounder in the future.
For more information about Wojcik's plans for the crab and his many other projects, visit www.artasreef.org.