KEY LARGO, FLA. -- Divers marked the 10th anniversary of the conversion of a retired Navy ship into an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Wednesday.
Local business leaders joined shipwreck enthusiasts Wednesday, on the eve of the actual anniversary date, for the ceremonial dive on the Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot former landing ship dock that resides in about 130 feet of water, six miles to the southeast of Key Largo.
The ship was being prepared for scuttling May 17, 2002, when it prematurely sank and rolled over, six hours earlier than planned, leaving its upside-down bow protruding above the sea.
Some three weeks later, salvors fully sank the vessel, but it landed on its starboard side. In July 2005, Hurricane Dennis, even thought it just skirted the Keys, helped push the Grove upright.
Today the growth of coral and marine life on the Spiegel Grove is voluminous, experts said.
The Spiegel Grove has had a significant economic impact on Key Largo, generating an estimated $25 million in tourism revenue during the past 10 years according to the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce.
Tourism officials say the vessel has helped make the area one of the dive capitals of the world.