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Vandenberg:  A Great Wreck & an Even Better Artificial Reef

Yes, it has been 10 years since the sinking of the USNS Vandenberg. I can remember being a part of a small family business dive shop in Marathon, thinking, Oh Boy, there goes our business. Fortunately, there was enough business to go around and the Thunderbolt also represents a great wreck to dive. We are happy to be a part of the the Key West diving community and having a chance to dive the Vandenberg on a regular basis.

We love wrecks because they are fascinating.  They carry so much history and bring that to each shoreline community in which they are located.  We talk about them affectionately like they are a part of us.  We don’t have the Empire State Building, we have the USNS Vandenberg.  That is our signature and it is fitting for us that live by the sea.  But it is even so much more than that.  It is a reef substitute, a secret blessing.  It offers life.  Once the wreck is introduced into the marine environment, it acts as a natural rocky bottom, providing potential living space for a new reef community. Nature quickly takes over and, soon thereafter, the structure begins to lose its artificial character. With each passing day, as numerous new living organisms begin to colonize the structure, what was once “artificial” now becomes a progressively intensifying reef ecosystem. In time, the steel structure will disappear beneath a colorful blanket of undersea life.  We have seen this with the Thunderbolt in Marathon and it is happening everyday on the Vandenberg. It is no longer the death of a ship or the graveyard but the life-giving structure that is sorely needed.  They take the pressure off the reefs to produce so much for us humans. These huge artificial reefs offer so much for both reef fish but also they are large enough to offer a cruising pelagics including gamefish refuge.

If we are lucky we will be adding another ship to Marathon, FL.  In the meantime, we need to celebrate the sinking of one of the greatest artificial reefs the Keys has ever seen.  USNS Vandenberg, we salute you!