SPIEGEL GROVE FULFILLING MISSION
AS DIVE ATTRACTION AND FISH MAGNET
|Volunteers install two plaques on the Spiegel Grove with the names of 500 "Lifetime Sponsors" who have helped cover the costs of converting the retired Navy ship into a living coral reef ecosystem.|
KEY LARGO, Florida Keys Local tourism and environmental officials are delighted with the role the Spiegel Grove shipwreck has carved for itself as a coral-covered home for marine life and a challenging excursion for sport diving enthusiasts.
Divers have made an estimated 45,000 excursions to the ship since its intentional scuttling six miles off Key Largo in June 2002, according to figures kept by the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce. Chamber officials estimate that the Spiegel Grove has injected $14 million into the area economy.
The Spiegel Grove surprised everyone when it began sinking on its own May 17, hours before experts had planned to scuttle the former Navy transport ship to the sandy ocean bottom of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. For three weeks the ship's upside-down bow protruded above the ocean's surface, garnering international attention.
Salvage experts from Resolve Marine of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., rolled the Spiegel Grove onto its starboard (right) side and finished sinking it June 10.
Today, the Spiegel Grove is the largest ship in the world ever scuttled to create an artificial reef, according to wreck-diving experts.
The Key Largo Chamber of Commerce and its artificial reef committee spearheaded the eight-year effort to acquire and sink the 510-foot Landing Ship Dock.
More than 17,000 plastic dive medallions have been sold for $10 apiece, and almost 750 of 1,000 gold-brushed "Lifetime Sponsor" commemorative medallions have been purchased for $250 each.
Revenue from medallion sales will defray bank loans for the sinking project. With $210,000 in costs remaining, chamber officials are encouraged by the progress toward erasing the debt. Divers have finished installing bronze plaques on the ship with the names of the first 500 donors, and plans are in the works to install more plaques to commemorate donors.
About half of the project's $1.6 million budget was paid by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.
Several Upper Keys dive shops have credited the Spiegel Grove with keeping their own businesses afloat or in the black during current tough economic times.
But the biggest beneficiary, officials said, has been the marine environment.
The presence of the Spiegel Grove has alleviated some human pressure on Upper Keys natural coral reefs. And a plethora of marine life has taken up residence in the shipwreck.
"In less then a year, there are more species of fish on the Spiegel Grove than on the wreck of the (nearby) Coast Guard cutter Duane, that was sunk in 1987," said Laddie Akins, of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, who is involved in a multi-year study of the Spiegel Grove site to monitor fish presence.
At least 130 species of fish have been documented, including a resident goliath grouper, mutton snapper, black grouper, as well as many bluehead wrasse, bar jacks, bicolor damselfish, ocean surgeonfish, round scad and grunts.
"There are massive schools of fish, and I have even heard of whale shark sightings," said Stephen Frink, a top underwater photographer. "You also have the beginnings of coral growth and lots of invertebrate life.
"The problem is that the grandeur of the whole vessel makes it extremely difficult to study the minutiae," he said. "It is so huge that it is impossible to see the entire ship on one dive."
More information on the Spiegel Grove and links to Key Largo visitor information are available on this website. Visitors are encouraged to contact the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, at 1-800-FLA-KEYS, Ext. 1. Elsewhere, dial 305-451-1414.
FOR MEDIA INFORMATION ONLY:
Contact: Andy Newman
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