Florida county sinks surplus Air Force ship in Gulf of Mexico for artificial reef

Okaloosa County's Artificial Reef Program (Okaloosa County/Released)

Okaloosa County created a new artificial reef destination in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday when it sunk a 93-foot surplus military vessel in about 105 feet of water some 14 nautical miles southwest of East Pass.

The steel boat, named Big Dawg, was donated by the Air Force and is the first large artificial reef wreck the county has deployed in more than 10 years, according to Okaloosa County Resources Manager Alex Fogg with Visit Destin-Fort Walton Beach.

The vessel was towed from Hurlburt Field to the reef location by contractor DreadKnot Charters, which readied the boat for its new life under the sea.

“After a lot of preparations to make sure that it was clean and environmentally friendly, we cut some holes and sank it to the bottom,” Fogg said.

Fogg then dove down to inspect the wreck site to make sure the vessel had landed at the bottom intact and upright.

“It looked perfect and there’s already a little bit of life on it,” he said. “We had a turtle that showed up right after we got to the bottom.”

The Big Dawg has a main deck and two smaller skeletal decks above that, making the structure about 40 feet tall. Fog said the boat’s height and the relatively shallow depth of the water make it ideal for scuba diving.

“Because of how shallow it is and how much profile (height) there is, really anyone of any skill level can dive this site,” Fogg said.

Fogg said the new reef, which sits in an area with other older existing reefs, likely will be a destination for local anglers and charter fishing boats.

“It’s also going to be a great spot to catch your amberjack, your triggerfish, your red snapper and all the fish that people come to Destin to fish for,” he said.

Big Dawg is located at 30 degrees 09.047 minutes north latitude and 86 degrees 34.424 minutes west longitude.


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