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Last modified: Wednesday, June 5, 2002

IU group involved in sinking ship for artificial reef off Florida coast

Indiana University faculty and students have been involved in sinking an old Navy ship off the coast of Florida to create the world's largest artificial reef.

Charles Beeker, director of the Underwater Science program through the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and Bill Jones, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, directed eight IU students in dives and research prior to the sinking of the Spiegel Grove on May 17 in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary near Key Largo.

The students were enrolled in two classes, one by Beeker on underwater research and one by Jones on coral reef ecology. Information on the project is available online at http://www.indiana.edu/~scuba/spiegel.

"Our IU involvement concerned diver access and safety issues at a recreational dive park," explained Beeker, who has personally made more than 20 dives at the site. He said the IU contingent was on board when the vessel sank four hours early, but everyone was evacuated safely.

Beeker has returned to Florida and is now working with the salvage company to right the ship with the goal of creating the largest artificial shipwreck reef in the world. Plans call for the ship to be situated some 130 feet down, with the top of the superstructure about 40 feet below the surface. Beeker and the IU group are developing a safety map of the ship to guide divers in the underwater exploration of the vessel. He is also pursuing listing of the site with the National Register of Historic Places. He said the site should be attractive to divers because of the history of the Spiegel Grove and because the Key Largo area in the Florida Keys is the world's most popular diving location.

The Spiegel Grove is a 510-foot-long landing ship transport craft named after the Ohio estate of Rutherford Hayes, the 19th President of the United States. Launched in 1955, it spent most of its life participating in amphibious exercises along the eastern seaboard and in the Caribbean. The last active duty for the Spiegel Grove was with the Atlantic Fleet in 1974, and it was decommissioned in 1989. Officials have been preparing for creation of the reef for the last several years.

For more information, contact Beeker at cbeeker@indiana.edu.