Vandenberg Sinking Creates New Artificial Reef Off Florida Keys

Photograph: Sinking of the U.S. Air Force missile-tracking ship Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg. Credit: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau.
Credit: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau

In its 66-year career, the Hoyt S. Vandenberg has been a troop ship, a missile tracker, and a featured player in a Hollywood movie. On May 27, just before 10:30 a.m. EDT, the Vandenberg literally settled into a new career as an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary about seven miles south of Key West. Explosive charges set on the ship worked perfectly, and the ship sank upright to the bottom in less than two minutes. Divers soon reported within an hour that the new artificial reef was already attracting fish.

The Vandenberg was donated by the Maritime Administration, which also contributed another $1.25 million to the project to prepare the vessel for reefing. The project required about $8.6 million and took almost exactly 13 years to complete from the time Key West resident Capt. Joe Weatherby picked the Vandenberg from a list of 400 ex-military ships to be reefed.

Artificial reefs attract fish and sea life, which in turn attract divers. The artificial reef created by the sinking of the Vandenberg is also expected to help protect the fragile natural reefs off the Florida Keys.

Weatherby, speaking to reporters soon after the sinking, said, "We hit a home run today. Everything was perfect." He estimated that the new artificial reef would generate $10-12 million a year for the economy of Key West, as well as creating 125 new jobs.

The Florida Keys now have an arc of artificial reefs and shipwrecks running from Key Largo to Key West.

Weatherby pointed out that the reef at Key Largo, created by the sinking of the Spiegel Grove in 2002, is the most profitable artificial reef in the world, and expressed the hope that the Vandenberg would soon surpass it.

The string of artificial reefs in the Keys is bookended by ships donated by the Maritime Administration, which also donated the Spiegel Grove.

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