Four ships have been sunk as artificial reefs within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary since its designation in 1990; an additional 16 ships were sunk as artificial reefs within waters of the Florida Keys prior to sanctuary inception
Within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, reefs – natural and artificial – provide habitat for marine life and also attract divers, snorkelers, and fishermen. Artificial reefs within the sanctuary have only been developed after an extensive evaluation and permitting process to ensure that placement of the structures on the seafloor will not be detrimental to sanctuary resources and that the proposed benefits of the artificial reef will be achieved.
Examples of intentionally sunk ships within the sanctuary include the Amesbury, Bibb, Duane, Eagle, Spiegel Grove, and Thunderbolt. Some of these ships are all located along the sanctuary’s Shipwreck Trail, where they serve the same functions in this underwater trail as museums do on land.
Another very well known and popular artificial reef in the sanctuary is the Hoyt S. Vandenberg. Sunk on May 27, 2009, just seven miles south of Key West, the Vandenberg is the largest artificial reef in the sanctuary and the second largest in the world. The shipwreck is now a popular diving destination.