IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hurricane fixes artificial reef by righting ship

Mother Nature tidied up a man-made mess off the coast of the Florida Keys when the force of Hurricane Dennis flipped a sunken U.S. Navy ship into the perfect position to help form an artificial reef.
The outline of the USS Spiegel Grove is seen on Tuesday, a day after the ship was righted by Hurricane Dennis.
The outline of the USS Spiegel Grove is seen on Tuesday, a day after the ship was righted by Hurricane Dennis. Fraser Nivens / Florida Keys News Bureau
/ Source: news services

What humans were unable to do, Hurricane Dennis handled nicely.

The former USS Spiegel Grove, serving as artificial reef on the bottom in 130 feet of water off Key Largo, flipped upright as the core of the storm passed some 200 miles to the west, kicking up 20-foot waves.

“Waves that high in close proximity to the reef can produce unusually strong currents with tremendous force,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Strahan.

The upright position is what project organizers had wanted since the retired 510-foot ship prematurely sank and rolled over May 17, 2002, leaving its upside-down bow protruding from the water and creating a navigation hazard.

Salvage crews later used giant airbags and steel cables to nudge it over onto its starboard side, where it was safe from passing vessels but slightly disorienting for divers to swim through.

The Spiegel Grove is the most popular artificial wreck in the Florida Keys, home at least 166 different fish species, said Lad Akins of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation.

But its realignment will make it a better platform for sports divers.

“I’m flabbergasted,” Rob Bleser, volunteer project director, said after a dive on the newly oriented Spiegel Grove. “Nature took its course and put it where it belongs.”

The Spiegel Grove reef is about six miles off Key Largo. The ship, designed to carry cargo and craft for amphibious landings, was retired by the Navy in 1989. It served in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.

The Cold War relic was the largest vessel ever deliberately sunk to form the backbone of a coral ridge to nurture sea life and amuse scuba divers.