History & News
return to History & News

Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Key West Citizen


Laying groundwork for new reef


Citizen Staff Writer

Divers aboard the liveaboard boat Tiburon this weekend will do more than look at barracuda, search for elusive jewfish or perform underwater somersaults. The group will count fish and record their findings to further the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg artificial reef project.

Joe Weatherby, of Artificial Reefs of the Keys, has been working to sink the 530-foot military ship for more than five years. He said he hopes to see it on the bottom of the ocean in about 14 months.

That surveying will begin this weekend, as 14 divers per day will have the chance to stay aboard the Tiburon and dive all day, armed with a waterproof slate and a list of identifiable fish species.

The four-day surveying allows divers the chance to stay overnight on the boat for up to four days, and pay only $20 per day for groceries, Weatherby said.

The divers, who are required to take a three-hour seminar about fish counting before entering the water, will use a roving-diver monitoring technique that requires them to stay within about 100 meters of the dive boat while recording every type of fish they see.

Tracy Hamilton, an oceanography and marine sciences teacher at Florida Keys Community College, has been teaching the seminars and will be aboard the Tiburon for the first of several surveying projects.

"But the secondary objective is to open this project up to the general community," she said. "People who have been diving down here for years are actually excited about doing this."

Local community involvement has been one of Weatherby's goals since he began the task of sinking the ship, and he has incorporated the marine-science program at the college into the plans for the sinking ship.

The Vandenberg will become an underwater classroom for students with a curriculum specifically designed for the ship.

"Everybody in this town has dive equipment in their closet they haven't used in years," Weatherby said, adding he wants those people to replace their O-rings, check their valves and get in the water.

The survey dives will be at a maximum depth of 50 feet, Hamilton said, and the dive sites will include about 20 spots between Key West and the proposed site of the sinking, most of which are already popular dive sites with commercial businesses.

Although most spots are already filled for this weekend, Weatherby and Hamilton are hoping to do several more trips such as this one before the Vandenberg sinks. They also said that once divers have taken the fish-counting seminar, they can bring their slate on future, independent dives and continue to count while at the other sites.

"A lot of things have evolved with this project," Weatherby said. "But the biggest things are our involvement with the educational and environmental projects -- I have never heard of any other artificial reef project starting their monitoring 14 months in advance."

But that timeline is dependent on funding for the project, which requires permits, inspections and environmental engineering work plans.

For more information about the Vandenberg, visit http://www.bigshipwrecks.com


Back Home Up Next

Related Links

Partner Links