KEY LARGO (CBSMiami) – The Spiegel Grove, the third largest ship in the world ever scuttled to become an artificial reef is a decade old.
The 510-foot former U.S. Navy Landing Ship Dock Spiegel Grove has welcomed trained divers off Key Largo since 2002, when the Key Largo community rallied to sink the retired ship as 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.
In June 2001, after more than a decade tethered in the U.S. Navy’s “Mothball Fleet” in Virginia’s James River, Spiegel Grove was towed to undergo an elaborate cleaning process and 11 months later was moved to Key Largo.
Six hours before its intended scuttling on May 17, 2002, the former landing dock prematurely sank and unexpectedly rolled over, leaving its upside down bow protruding above the surface of the water.
Three weeks later, on June 10, a salvage team managed to sink the vessel fully and it came to rest on its starboard side. The enormous ship immediately attracted large amounts of reef fish and marine growth, and officially opened to divers on June 26, luring scores of dive enthusiasts over the new artificial reef’s cliff-like hull sprawled across the sandy bottom.
July 9, 2005, brought what many call Hurricane Dennis’ gift to sport diving, even though the storm skirted the Keys. When Dennis was east of Cuba it generated powerful currents that migrated up the Florida Straits and turned the Grove upright. Nature had accomplished what man couldn’t.
To date, more than 200 different species of fish have settled on the Spiegel Grove, according to officials at the Reef Environmental Education Foundation.