19 Jul 2018
Although the Keys are best known as a premiere dive destination, the waters off Sanibel Island offer a unique diving site.
The USS Mohawk, a retired Coast Guard Cutter, was sunk on July 2, 2012. The vessel is the first official memorial reef dedicated to all US veterans. The Mohawk completed significant tasks such as informing General Dwight D Eisenhower that the weather was clearing for the D-Day invasion and launched 14 attacks against submarines between 1942 and 1945. To mark the warship's conversion into a dive site, a number of artifacts from St Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum were hidden around it for seasoned divers to find.
The divers that located a selection of items included: 18th century rum bottles, a non-explosive projectile dating back to the 17th century and a hand-drawn treasure map. Those divers won free passes to the museum in St. Augustine, dinner for two at the Key West restaurant and the booty they found.
Scuba centers in the area applauded the action of the sinking, stating that there is a dual advantage in creating a reef of this sort and allowing the history to live on.
The artificial reef has quite a history and now it has become part of the Charley's Reef system which sits in about 90 feet of water. The ship was sunk using a series of explosives, which were handled by the Lee County Marine Services Program and a Key West company called Reefmakers (with cannons and propeller intact). Although there are several existing wrecks; including the Bayronto and Fantastico off the coast of Southwest Florida, this is the first decommissioned military ship used for constructing a reef.
For those who know diving and divers, there is great optimism about this historical action. According to these connoisseurs of the deep, there are a lot of divers from all over the world who will come just to dive a wreck to add to their list.
When the ship reached the sea floor, it was only a matter of time before a variety of marine life began to call it home. This only makes the site even more attractive to divers. Although it began attracting fish immediately, it will take years or possibly even decades for other structures such as hard corals and sea sponges to take hold.
Even though the ship was a welcome addition to the undersea landscape, some in the local dive community warn that it won't be the instant boom to the industry that some expect.
Two of the biggest issues for the new site will be the distance from shore and the costs associated with getting there. The 90-foot depth to the bottom will also preclude most recreational divers from being able to explore it. It is available to advanced divers only as most divers are only certified to go about 60 feet. There may be other issues holding back mass popularity. With 80 percent of charter dives only around nine miles out, 15 percent are around 20 miles out, and only about 5 percent go out further.
Technical divers are going to love it and it adds just another reason to add Sanibel to your next travel destination list.