The Florida Keys & Key West

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The Vandenberg: celebrating a decade as an artificial reef

Diving enthusiasts have a special reason to visit the Florida Keys this year as one of the destination’s most popular dive sites, the former military ship USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, celebrates its 10th anniversary as a purposely-created artificial reef.

WHY: With the Florida Keys increasingly recognised as a leading dive destination, preserving the island chain’s natural coral reefs assumed huge importance. Properly prepared artificial reefs were created to help take human pressure off these marine treasures, providing new alternative structures for scuba divers to explore, as well as encouraging the formation of additional marine habitats. Artificial reefs increase species populations and provide a platform for education and research, while preserving the history and heritage of the vessels used.

WHEN: Ten years ago, on 27 May 2009, following more than a decade of planning and funding, the Vandenberg that once tracked space launches off Cape Canaveral, Florida, and monitored Soviet missile launches during the Cold War, was intentionally sunk off the coast of the Florida Keys. It was transformed from a military vessel into an artificial reef, while simultaneously preserving a key part of U.S. history.

WHERE: The 523-foot-long ship became the world’s second-largest vessel to be deliberately sunk for this purpose. Located in nearly 150 feet of water in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and approximately seven miles south of Key West International Airport, the Vandenberg is the southernmost asset of the Florida Keys Wreck Trek, a string of nine vessels from Key Largo to Key West that recreational divers can explore.

HOW: After explosive cutting charges were detonated to open holes in the lower deck, hundreds of jubilant onlookers watched the Vandenberg slip beneath the surface to arrive at the bottom of the ocean in just one minute and 45 seconds.

WHO: For thousands of visiting wreck-certified divers eager to explore ‘Vandy,’ the site is a bucket list, world-class experience. After an opening dive on the wreck, first-timers are hooked. Experienced aquanauts agree that all qualified divers should experience it and judge for themselves. Sportsmen also delight in the densely inhabited surrounding blue waters, with sailfish and pelagics providing angling action.

WHAT: Sitting still beneath the sea over the last decade, the Vandenberg has bloomed into a timeless circle of life, luring big schools of spectacular fish species and invertebrate life to its decks. Its steps, railings, iconic satellite dishes and superstructure are glazed over with Gorgonian corals, sponges and sea urchins, resulting in a magical and unique habitat for marine life and scuba divers alike to enjoy.

Discover the complete story of this unique vessel and its journey from ship to shipwreck to artificial reef here. Then celebrate the Vandenberg’s 10-year ‘on-the-bottom’ anniversary by booking a dive on it with one of Key West’s professional dive operators.

The moment The Vandenberg began sinking

The moment The Vandenberg began sinking

Divers exploring the artificial reef

Divers exploring the artificial reef

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