Dive the world's largest artificial reef off Pensacola's shores, USS Oriskany
The Pensacola Bay Area is known for its rich cultural, historical and natural offerings. Pristine beaches boasting bright white sand and clean, clear emerald waters create the perfect seaside getaway with year-round festivals, national parks and genuine Southern hospitality adding to the area's appeal. Now, America's first European settlement has another page to add to the history books as it becomes home to the world's largest artificial reef, the USS Oriskany. This retired aircraft carrier was laid to rest 22.5 miles southeast of Pensacola Pass on May 17, 2006. At 888 feet in length and weighing 32,000 tons, this is the largest ship intentionally sunk as an artificial reef and will benefit marine life, sport fishing and recreational diving off the coast of the Florida panhandle.
At the time of her sinking, Ed Schroeder, vice-president of tourism development for the Pensacola Bay Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, a division of the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, said: "We are thrilled to be able to offer visitors and locals one more world-class attraction in an area already boasting 450 years of history at premier historical sites, one of the largest aviation museums in the world, national parks and stunning white-sand beaches. This just completes the package as the ultimate destination for outdoor recreation and an ideal Florida vacation."
Divers from across the globe have come to the region to dive the retired naval aircraft carrier that served the Navy for 25 years in operations in Korea, Vietnam and the Mediterranean. From the beginning, the Mighty O arracted sea life: divers swim with Goliath grouper, ocean sunfish, eagle rays and other marine life. The top of her "crown," or her island, glistens through the sparkling gulf waters at about 67 feet and is so massive that it would take several dives just to see all of it. On a day with good viz, the top of the island may be seen from the surface. Her seemingly endless flowing flight deck rests calmly at 137 feet, which is considered a technical dive. With visibility commonly 60 to 100 feet and water temps ranging from the middle 80s in summer to upper 60s in winter, the Oriskany is a great dive any time of year.
"If a diver follows the most basic rules of recreational SCUBA — don't go below 130 feet, stay close to your buddy, return to the surface with 500 psi still in your tank — the Oriskany is a safe dive for all experience levels of certified divers," said Captain Ron Beermunder, Pensacola Dive Company.
It is recommended that all divers ask guides several safety-related questions before choosing a dive company to ensure safety, such as first-aid procedures, experience and certifications.
For more information about the Pensacola Bay Area or the Oriskany, call the Pensacola Bay Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 874-1234 or (850) 434-1234 or go online to www.VisitPensacola.com.