Kuusiluoto sawmill island

Imagine a dive where the bottom is not sand, mud or rock – it’s wood. And you’re not diving on a shipwreck either. On the north side of a small Kuusiluoto island outside Tornio city is a place like this. The bay opening to north is supposedly covered in sand, but in reality, it’s pieces of wood.

Small wood pieces in water.
Tiny pieces of wood on the shore of Kuusiluoto. Photo by Essi Keskinen, Metsähallitus.

The first time I dived there in 2013 we placed a 100 m transect line from the beach towards north. We threw the transect line with a weight from the boat to the shore, so I didn’t see what was at the bottom at the end of the bay. We started the dive from the deep end and worked our way towards the beach on a nice sandy bottom. At some point, the sand turned into pieces of wood. I had no idea what was going on, until I later found out, that there had been a sawmill on the island between 1901-1944. These were the leftovers, so to speak.

Lots of wood pieces on a shore.
Some parts of Kuusiluoto are full of planks also on the shores, especially during low water. Photo by Sjef Heijnen, Metsähallitus.

“In Summer 2019 me and our trainee Eveliina did a 200-meter dive transect on the west side of Kuusiluoto island. I knew that there had been a sawmill on the island, and I had been expecting to find some wood from the area. We started the dive from the shore and snorkeled our way there. We already noticed some planks and pieces of wood before starting the dive.” -Suvi Saarnio

Bigger wood pieces in water.
While snorkeling to the beginning of the transect line we saw some planks here and there. Photo by Suvi Saarnio, Metsähallitus.

“In the beginning of the dive transect there was about 5-10 % coverage of wood but as we moved a bit deeper (starting from about 1.5 meters depth), there were planks everywhere! It was as if we moved to another world, a world where the bottom all around you was wood instead of rocks, sand etc. We are not sure, but we estimated that in some places there was up to two meters of planks lying on top of each other, creating a unique habitat especially for polyps and water mosses. As we reached the end of the dive transect, all the wood was suddenly gone, and the bottom was 100 % mud. After the dive I heard that many years ago they had build “new land” around the Kuusiluoto island using planks. So that is why a huge area around the island (at least west, north and NE sides) is now full of planks under the surface. If you are a diver, I really recommend you to check this place out!” -Suvi Saarnio

100 % coverage of planks. Video by Suvi Saarnio, Metsähallitus.

A hundred years ago there were about 450 households and about 1000 year-round residents (double during the summer) on the island of Kuusiluoto. There were more than one hundred kids at the local school, they had a shop, a bakery, fire brigade, police and a midwife on the island. The community did sports on the sports arena, they had various societies, a theater, orchestra and many different religious communities as well as a worker’s association. It was a thriving community, almost like a mini colony on the island.

Then came the Second World War and the hostilities that it brought to Lapland, and on Oct 1st 1944 the Germans bombed the island’s buildings which were blocking their view to the German’s battery position. The houses caught fire and the wind blew from the direction to set the whole island ablaze.

That was the end of the entire sawmill community on the island. Nowadays one can visit there on a taxi boat or one’s own boat and see the ruins of the buildings from a hundred years back.

“Our field team visited Kuusiluoto island again on another day in Summer 2019, and we had a lunch break and a nice walk around the island. There is still a lot to see from the old times, a lot of buildings and such, but it is clearly visible that the nature is slowly taking back what is hers.” -Suvi Saarnio

Written by Essi Keskinen, Metsähallitus

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