For many years, retired military vessels have been finding new life after being decommissioned, and they are finding it at the bottom of the ocean. When a ship is scuttled, it has the ability to form an artificial reef on the ocean floor. This technique has become a vital part of the effort to sustain and maintain a healthy coral reef system that can support a wide variety of marine life. This month, Key Largo will celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of its most well-known sinkings - that of the Spiegel Grove - which had a fascinating service career and a scuttling story like no other.
The celebrated Spiegel Grove was a massive 510 foot Navy Landing Ship Dock that was in service from 1956-1989. During its 33 year long career, Spiegel Grove was a key piece in the United States Cold War strategy that called for containment of hostile governments above all else, as well as providing support to friendly governments. The Spiegel Grove was a ship that carried cargo and other vehicles and craft primarily for amphibious landings. After a great career, she was decommissioned in 1989, and was brought to the James River in Virginia to await its new role. It sat here, along with other decommissioned ships, for 12 years undergoing a process to ensure that all toxins had been released, as is the typical process for ships that will be sunk to create artificial reefs. Without undergoing this process, ships can contain elements that will be hazardous to marine life and the underwater world that it will join. After the 12 year detox, it received a thorough cleaning that spanned 11 months, and then made its way to Key Largo, where it was scheduled to be sunk in 2002.
While the Spiegel Grove was awaiting its scuttling, however, it actually began to sink on its own! It took on too much water, and keeled to its side - and eventually wound up upside down - well ahead of its scheduled sinking. For three weeks, Spiegel Grove’s bow could be seen peeking out of the waterline before engineers managed to finally sink it properly. With all of the mishaps, however, the ship came to lie on its starboard side on the ocean floor, instead of upright as is the preferred position for an artificial reef. It remained this way for 3 years, until Hurricane Dennis stormed through the Florida Keys in 2005. The storm created such strong currents, that they actually caused the ship to shift and sit upright on its bow, and it has remained in this position ever since. The Spiegel Grove truly has a story unlike any other!
This month, residents of Key Largo real estate and neighboring islands are set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the Spiegel Grove - the third largest ship ever to be intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef. On May 15, divers can take part in a scheduled dive to the ship, which sits in approximately 60 feet of water, to be a part of a ceremony to place a commemorative medallion on the Spiegel Grove’s hull. Other events include a presentation about the shipwreck, as well as a panel discussion of its history. All who live in Key Largo or nearby are welcome and encouraged to take part in this historic honoring of one of the Florida Keys’ most famous shipwrecks!