Key Largo Artificial Reef Blossoms After 10 Years
May 17, 2012

Key Largo Artificial Reef Blossoms After 10 Years

The Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot former US Navy Landing Ship, 10 years ago became the third largest ship in the world ever scuttled to become an artificial reef and the results have been more positive than originally planned.

The Spiegel Grove has welcomed trained divers off Key Largo since 2002, when the local community rallied to scuttle the retired ship and become the backbone of a new reef ecosystem six miles offshore. Its journey to the bottom at a depth of 130 feet is as intriguing as its current-day coral growths, according to CBS Miami.

"Before the Spiegel Grove was put down on the bottom, basically we had a sandy, flat bottom; with no structure, no complexity no coral on it at all,” Lad Akins of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, who lead a five-year study of the wreck´s marine life, told the Associated Press (AP). “And this 500-plus-foot steel structure has provided incredible relief and complexity for use of marine life."

Key Largo has benefited from the artificial reef that has blossomed from the Spiegel Grove in many ways. Tourism from sport divers has generated an estimated $25 million in outside dollars coming to the area during the past 10 years, according to Key Largo Chamber of Commerce officials.

“Key Largo is known as the dive capital of the world and the addition of the Spiegel Grove only furthered that name,” Russ Yagel, the chamber´s board chair told the AP.

Spiegel Grove rests upright approximately 130 feet below the surface of the ocean. It currently is residence for more than 200 species of fish and is enveloped by delicate corals and invertebrates, a spokesman from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation said.

Commissioned in 1956 to carry cargo and craft for amphibious landings, Spiegel Grove served the US Navy until its decommissioning in 1989. After more than a decade in the US Navy´s “Mothball Fleet” in Virginia´s James River, the ship was towed to undergo an elaborate cleaning process and towed to Key Largo almost a year later with plans to become an artificial reef.

Six hours before its intended scuttling, the vessel prematurely sank and unexpectedly rolled over, leaving its upside-down bow protruding above the surface of the water.

“At the time it was sunk it was not looked as a blessing, (however) ironically it resulted in a great deal of international attention that now makes people from around the world dive the Spiegel Grove,” Yagel explained to the AP.

Three weeks later, a salvage team was able to completely sink the vessel fully but it came to rest on its starboard side unexpectedly.

The ship immediately attracted reef fish and marine growth and officially opened to divers in June of 2002. The attraction began luring underwater enthusiasts to the new artificial reefs cliff-like hull sprawled across the sandy ocean floor.

In another unexpected twist in July of 2005, Hurricane Dennis drove through the region and generated powerful currents that migrated up the Florida Straits, turning the Spiegel Grove upright. Where it is now fully accessible by divers who enjoy the ship as well as its growing coral ecosystem.