Subject: ARK Mission
Artificial Reefs of the Keys is a non-profit group in Key West, working to bring the de-commissioned USAFS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg to our waters to become an artificial reef. At over 520 feet and 13,000 tons, this will be the largest ship ever intentionally sunk for this purpose. This ship will become a world-class diving and fishing destination, but it will also offer many other benefits to the environment and to education and research. Meticulously cleaned and prepared, the vessel will become a habitat and breeding site for countless marine species. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary strongly supports this purpose, and has approved the Vandenberg project as consistent with its Sanctuary Management Plan. Our local Florida Keys Community College has built curriculum and is conducting classes around reef development at the site. Distance learning projects are planned to bring live lessons from the Vandenberg into classrooms nationwide via the Internet. Additionally, a film documentary is being produced, which will preserve the story of this historic ship and those who served on her.
The ARK Vandenberg project is much more than just another metal-on-the-bottom plan. We are creating a model to demonstrate how shipwreck artificial reefs can offer diverse benefits reaching far beyond the diving community.
Environment: The Vandenberg will lie within the bounds of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The Sanctuary Management Plan calls for placement of artificial reefs to provide alternative diving and fishing sites, to create habitat, and as a research resource for monitoring reef development. The Sanctuary staff has specifically approved the site and the plan for the ARK project. Our project manager, Resource Control Corporation (rcc-net.com), has an impressive and extensive record in environmental consulting and remediation. Their professional expertise and their experience in working with regulatory agencies have earned approval of our project by many environmental organizations.
Education: The Florida Keys Community College has been a participant in the Vandenberg project from early inception. Staff from the Departments of Diving Business and Technology, Oceanography, Computer Science, and Graphic Design, have all been involved. Classes have already been conducted to begin preparing research divers for monitoring the artificial reef. The wreck will serve as an underwater classroom and lab for many different subjects. Distance-learning projects are being developed to make interactive classes conducted on the Vandenberg available live on the internet.
History: The ex-USAFS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg has seen a long and varied history, commissioned twice and serving two services under two different names. Launched in 1944 as the troop transport USNS Gen. Harry Taylor, she served in the Pacific, and later as a "Magic Carpet" ship bringing troops home from the ETO. Taylor was the first ship back in New York after VJ Day. After the war, Taylor transported European refugees to new lives in the US and Australia. Many of those voyages departed from Bremerhaven, Germany and traveled to New York. Called to action again in 1957, the ship transported refugees from the valiant, though failed, Hungarian Revolution to Australia. In 1961, she was acquired by the US Air Force and completely re-fitted as a missile-tracking vessel, carrying the highest technology of the day. Newly commissioned in 1963 as Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, she served in the Cold War between the super powers and in early NASA programs. A documentary is in production to record and preserve the ship's history. Some of this material can be seen in the "History" section of the website.
Diving: The Vandenberg Artificial Reef will be a world-class site for all levels of diving experience. The keel and screw will rest at 140' The tops of the bridge, com rooms, crow's nest and the vast dish antennas will be only 40' below the surface in normally clear gulf stream waters. Lying outside the reef line, about 6 miles offshore, the wreck will often be visible even to snorkelers and glass bottom boats. This site will be the signature dive of Key West and the Florida Keys, and will become one of the most famous warm-water wrecks in the world. All 4 upper decks will be opened to divers, with access vertically through the 18 stair towers, elevator shafts, and cargo holds. The spaces will also be accessible horizontally through 7x10' holes in the hull. The fuel tanks, tank-top, and first platform will be sealed and ballasted to insure upright positioning.