One year ago the USS Oriskany became the world's largest artificial reef, intentionally sunk in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola. The Oriskany, the "Mighty O," was an aircraft carrier that saw action in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Veterans who served onboard and went on to become well known include astronaut Alan Shepard, Admiral James Stockdale, and Senator John McCain. Also, if you've watched "The Bridges of Toko-Ri" or "The Men of the Fighting Lady," you've seen the Oriskany. The hope is that the ship will be a good fishing and diving spot, and be an economic asset for Pensacola.
Another artificial reef is under construction near Pensacola, from the remains of the old I-10 bridge over Escambia Bay, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. These are just two of the over two thousand artificial reefs that can be found in Florida's offshore waters.
An artificial reef is a man-made object that is deliberately sunk in the ocean to provide habitat for marine life or stabilize erosion. The "U.S. Customs Reef" was created east of Key Biscayne in 2001 by scuttling four ships seized from drug smugglers. Four Florida reefs incorporate parts of old oil rigs. Reef Balls are man-made objects made specifically to create artifical reefs. Eternal Reefs are reef balls that incorporate the cremated remains of the dearly departed, a different sort of burial at sea.
Unfortunately, not all artificial reefs are successful. In 1972, two million tires were placed offshore of Fort Lauderdale. The tires were meant to attract marine life and keep the land fills from overflowing. However, marine critters were not attracted. Some of the tires have broken loose and washed ashore. Others have broken loose and actually damaged natural reefs. Hopefully, the tires will be cleaned up this year (here's the plan).
(Additional Resource for Teachers: National Geographic Lesson Plan "The Pros and Cons of Artificial Reefs" for Grades 9-12. )