Can sinking ships raise up Florida’s underwater ecosystems?
Legislation spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar has Florida’s sportfishing industry bobbing in support. The American Sportfishing Association is endorsing the Reusing Equipment for Environmental Fortification (REEF) Act, which would allow retired Navy ships to be submerged and added to marine environments.
Salazar, a Coral Gables Republican, introduced the bipartisan legislation in the House with U.S. Rep. Ed Case, a Hawaii Democrat.
Salazar noted that sunken ships also spur tourism, with scuba divers exploring the underwater environments.
“Miami’s coasts are filled with history and wildlife. This bill allows us to use our retired Navy ships to protect South Florida’s beautiful coastal ecosystems for decades to come,” she said. “I am proud to support this bipartisan bill with my colleague to continue making good use of our nation’s military infrastructure.”
And it’s a matter in which Florida has some experience. A Naval ship, the Spiegel Grove, was sunk off the Florida Keys in 2002, initially landing with its bow protruding from the ocean surface six miles off Key Largo. A massive remediation sank the boat completely, and a hurricane later put it in an upright position underwater.
The vessel has become an attraction in its own right for divers, and has created an artificial reef habitat for fish. A commemorative plaque was installed at the site last year sponsored by Navy sailors who served on the vessel.
Rubio, who introduced the Senate version of the bill, said sinking retired ships will be good all around.
“Florida’s marine ecosystems are of vital importance to the state’s biodiversity, economy and way of life,” he said. “The REEF Act would create new opportunities to utilize retiring navy ships as artificial reefs to the benefit of marine life and Florida’s tourism-based economy.”
Now, sportfishing groups are lobbying for its passage.
“By creating new marine habitat, artificial reefs quickly become popular fishing destinations,” said Martha Guyas, American Sportfishing Association Southeast Fisheries Policy Director.
“Artificial reefs provide space for entire food webs to grow and reef fish populations to flourish. Our thanks go to Representatives Salazar and Case and Senator Rubio for continuing to champion this legislation to provide more opportunities for artificial reefing.”
The organization spearheaded a letter supported by a dozen different groups around the country, including BoatU.S., the Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, National Association of Charterboat Operators, Panama City Boatmen Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Wild Oceans.
Case noted his tropical state, like Florida, also relies on healthy reefs.
“Creating artificial reefs using excess naval vessels can help restore and preserve our fragile ocean ecosystem and create opportunities for those who want to explore the biodiversity that would surround a sunken structure,” Case said.
“There are a number of structures, including small boats and planes, in waters off my home state of Hawai‘i that both restore our threatened marine ecosystem and draw those who want to experience our marine life up close and understand how it must be preserved.”