It’s been nearly 15 years since the former military ship the Spiegel Grove was intentionally scuttled as an artificial reef off Key Largo, and now an anniversary dive is planned to mark the occasion.
Additionally, an exhibit showcasing the wreck, now home to countless species of marine life, is on display at Islamorada’s History of Diving Museum through Sept. 4. The museum is at mile marker 83 bayside.
The 510-foot former U.S. Navy ship is about six miles off Key Largo in the Atlantic. At its deepest it’s 130 feet; at its minimum depth, it’s 45 feet. It’s 84 feet tall.
Divers are to mark the ship’s journey with dives May 17 and 18. Events include the installation of two plaques emblazoned with names of lifetime “medallion holders” who contributed financially to the sinking effort on the ship’s hull and bridge. Also planned is a fish survey dive with staff from Reef Environmental Education Foundation of Key Largo. The dive requires preregistration. go to www.divingmuseum.org to register.
The Spiegel Grove was in military service from 1956 to 1989. Following its decommisssioning, it sat with the navy’s mothball fleet in Virginia. Locals raised the money to get it cleaned, transported and sunk.
On May 17, 2002, as it was being prepared for scuttling, the Spiegel Grove unexpectedly sank prematurely and rolled over, leaving its upside-down bow protruding above the surface of the water. Three weeks later, June 10, 2002, a Resolve Marine Group salvage team finished scuttling the ship.
The ship remained on its side at the bottom until waves from Hurricane Dennis helped finish the job correctly. Diver Bob Snyder was the first person to view the wreck of the Spiegel Grove after Hurricane Dennis skirted the Keys in July 2005.
When he got close enough to see the ship, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The storm had turned the massive vessel upright from its starboard-side position in 130 feet of water.
“I had to ask myself, ‘Am I narcked?’ ” Snyder would later tell a newspaper reporter, referring to a nitrogen imbalance in the bloodstream that can sometimes make divers giddy.
Now enveloped in natural corals, attracting large groupers, schools of shimmering smaller fish and colorful tropical fish, the Spiegel Grove has become an entire reef ecosystem.