Normally, when a ship sets sail, one of the goals is to avoid sinking. However, USNS Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg cast off yesterday with the express purpose of ending up at the bottom of the briny deep. Purchased by Key West for $8.6 million, the former U.S. Navy ship was then sunk by demolition experts to provide a platform for a new coral reef.
The 523-foot-long Vandenberg served as a troop transport in World War Two and a missile-tracking radar ship during the Cold War. Now it forms the second largest intentionally created artificial reef in the world. Reef health is important for southern Florida both because of the tourism dollars it brings in, and because the the reef formed over the Vandenberg will help preserve biodiversity in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary by drawing tourists away from the more ecologically fragile natural reefs. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Florida Reef track in the Marine Sanctuary is the third longest coral reef area in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and the Belizian Barrier Reef of, well, Belize.