To Sink or Scrap?
Two of the biggest wrecks in the Florida Keys — the 510-ft (155-m) Spiegel Grove and the 523-ft (159-m) Vandenberg — began their journey to the Florida Keys from the back waters of Virginia’s James River. It’s there that the Maritime Administration (MARAD) maintains the James River Reserve Fleet, one of three massive flotillas of outdated and surplus ships (many veterans of World War II) that make up the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF). It costs taxpayers a lot of money to keep the old vessels afloat, and Uncle Sam would love nothing more than to see many of them put to good use as artificial reefs rather than go to a scrap yard.

“By taking ships like the Vandenberg and instead turning them into artificial reefs, we create a new conservation opportunity for marine wildlife and also generate economic activity,” says James Connaughton, former chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

There is no shortage of available ships — as of June 30, 2009, there were more than 200 surplus vessels sitting idle — but sinking them as dive sites is expensive and time-consuming. Vessels must be cleaned to meet strict environmental standards and stripped of potential hazards, like the 900,000 ft (274,320 m) of wiring that had to be removed from the Vandenberg. In all, the Vandenberg cost $8 million to sink, and the cleaning and preparation required more than 50,000 man-hours. But the results are spectacular, and the investment will pay off for decades as artificial reefs are a proven boon to marine life and local tourism economies.

— Stephen Frink

For More Information
For specific information on dive attractions by district, see the official website of the Florida Keys and Key West at

To learn more about the history of the Vandenberg and the 12-year effort to sink her as an artificial reef, visit

© Alert Diver — Fall 2009