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The Spiegel Grove Wreck


On June 10, 2002, the 510-foot retired Navy Landing Ship Dock Spiegel Grove slipped beneath the waves to start its reincarnation as a massive host for a new coral ecosystem.

The first recreational divers and snorkelers visited the ship on June 24, 2002.

The ship now rests on the sandy bottom six miles off Key Largo on its starboard (right) side. The ship is tilted slightly upright, offering divers an inviting view of its decks. It's hull rises to within 45 feet of the surface. Mooring buoys provide easy access for recreational divers and snorkelers.

The Spiegel Grove is the largest ever scuttled to create an artificial reef.

Recognized for their ability to sustain marine life and relieve human pressure on natural surrounding coral reefs, ships have been recycled as artificial reefs around the world.

Since its sinking, the Spiegel Grove has attracted many curious members of the area's 550 species of fish. Various types of coral, composed of tiny animals known as polyps, are among the array of living organisms that ultimately will shroud the vessel.

According to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Science Coordinator Brian Keller, the sides of steel structures like the Spiegel Grove tend to become enveloped by an encrusting coralline algae conducive to the development of sponges, stony and soft corals and other attached invertebrates.

Over the course of decades, Keller added, the Spiegel Grove's hull and superstructure are likely to develop significant formations of star, lettuce, brain and mustard hill corals along with sponges, sea whips, sea fans and invertebrates.

Key Largo underwater photographer Stephen Frink witnessed the p rogression from ship to reef of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Duane, sunk off Key Largo as a dive attraction in November 1987.

"The day after the Duane went down, there was a lone barracuda patrolling the sentinel," he recalled. "In weeks that followed, algae accumulated on the steel decks, and blue tangs, parrotfish and other algae eaters began to call the Duane home. Before long predators began their patrol, and the food chain was complete."

As time went on, Frink noted, large corals began to adhere to the Duane's decks, ladders and superstructure. The vessel has since evolved into a complete artificial reef with numerous corals.

For 10 years, the Spiegel Grove sat amid more than 100 other retired naval vessels rafted together in the James River, just off of Fort Eustis, Va. At least 83 other ships are prime candidates for artificial reef projects, said Michael Bagley, superintendent for the James River Reserve Fleet.

"I think [using retired ships for artificial reefs is] a hell of a deal for all parties concerned," Bagley said. "It takes the liability off of our hands and saves taxpayers money."

Bagley said each decommissioned vessel costs on average $20,000 a year to maintain and the U.S. pays $1.6 million to send a derelict ship to the scrap yard. "Why should we pay to cut them up and put them in a steel mill," he said. "When they are cleaned, in an environmentally sensitive manner, and sunk as an artificial reef they provide new homes for fish, a great monetary benefit for the community and a way to preserve the vessel's military heritage."

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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.

Contact: Andy Newman

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