Diving is one of the Keys’ greatest passions and pastimes, and an integral part of the tourism industry. Losing dive sites could wreak more economic damage after Irma but the reports from the waters are looking good. Most dive boat captains are happy to be back in business and the unique Keys sites fared pretty well. Irma could never take away diving in the Keys – the waters will forever be a playground – but keeping the wrecks and reefs feels like a stroke of good fortune.
One of the more popular sites, the USS Vandenberg, has the most visible change. Irma managed to push all of the Vandy’s 17,000 tons 30 degrees in the water.
“The bow was 90 degrees and now is 120 degrees; it’s sitting due east now,” said dive instructor Mike Pendleton with Captain’s Corner Dive Center. “I can’t fathom that big of a force to move that much. It’s just amazing.”
The two anchor lines that used to pull either side of the bow now actually sit on one side of the wreck. “The depth of the deck is now a little deeper, which can shorten a dive, and there is silt all over everything., “ said Pendleton. He describes the damage to the rest of the ship as minimal. The biggest change was the radar dish on the port side that collapsed. Lightweight metal around the wheelhouse has collapsed as well. Cables have snapped or are no longer attached, but is the wreck dangerous to dive? “We should always be cautious; areas maybe we took for granted have shifted,” continued Pendleton. “And divers should be careful of their buoyancy with the shifting silt as it kicks up a lot of sand.” As for the wildlife, Pendleton reports the goliath groupers still abound and lionfish which were scarce before now are plentiful. The only major debris seems to be lost lobster traps.
Divemaster Ben Edmonds with Southpoint Divers has been to the Cayman wreck and finds it moved but unscathed. “It’s maybe moved about 200 feet but that depends on a boat’s GPS system; it may not register that for some. Silt has been pushed up against it making it about a 95-foot depth on the north side and 85-foot depth on the south side.” As for the reef, Edmonds said “Conditions may range now about 30 feet but everywhere looks very divable.” Both captains had no reports on the Joe’s Tug site.
Wendy Hall with Tilden’s Scuba Center reports, “Sombrero Reef sanctuary is looking very good, a bit dusty but good visibility and great activity.” The water is looking good folks, so dive in.