SINKING THE SPIEGEL: SHIP TURNED ARTIFICIAL REEF IN KEY LARGO

Today, the Spiegel Grove sits upright and attracts tons of fish and divers every year. STEPHEN FRINK ARCHIVE/Contributed

The 20th anniversary of the storied intentional sinking of a retired 510-foot Navy landing ship dock to create an artificial reef 6 miles off Key Largo will be marked Sunday-Tuesday, May 15-17 in the Florida Keys.

Highlights include a planned morning dive on Spiegel Grove on Sunday, May 15, to place a commemorative plaque on the ship’s hull to honor the men who served on the vessel. Qualified divers can make a reservation by contacting Lisa Mongelia, director of Islamorada’s History of Diving Museum, at 305-664-9737 or [email protected]

The museum is also debuting a month-long pop-up exhibit about the ship in its research library. Visitors to the facility, located at MM 82.9 bayside in Islamorada, can learn about the wreck and its fascinating heritage through May 31. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

On Tuesday, May 17 — the 20th anniversary of the ship’s sinking — the public can enjoy “Celebrating the Spiegel Grove at 20: A Saga Too Strange Even for Hollywood,” a multimedia presentation and panel discussion with members of the initial “sink team,” chronicling the intriguing history of Spiegel Grove. The story of the ship’s journey from the ocean’s surface to the sandy bottom 130 feet below is as compelling as its size.

In early July 2005 the vessel was discovered in an upright position — the position that the dive community had originally hoped for — after Hurricane Dennis brushed the Florida Keys with tropical storm-force winds. FRASER NIVENS/Florida Keys News Bureau

Featured panelists include Lad Akins, curator of marine conservation at Frost Museum of Science; Rob Bleser and Spencer Slate, Key Largo dive operators; Stephen Frink, renowned underwater photographer and Alert Diver Magazine publisher; Joy Martin, former Key Largo Chamber of Commerce president; retired NOAA Rear Adm. Dave Score, a former Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary superintendent; and Andy Newman, media relations director for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

The free event is from 7 to 9 p.m. in the auditorium of Key Largo’s Murray Nelson Governmental and Cultural Center, MM 102. Refreshments and beverages will be served. Interested participants are asked to register with the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce at keylargochamber.org.

The 510-foot former Navy Landing Ship Dock was to be scuttled upright to create an artificial reef off the Florida Keys, but sunk prematurely Friday morning and rolled over. Key Largo Chamber of Commerce officials held a news conference Monday, May 20, 2002, to announce plans to utilize a South Florida-based salvage company that will make an effort to roll the ship upright or on its side. ANDY NEWMAN/Florida Keys News Bureau

The panel will review the saga of the Spiegel Grove.

During the morning of May 17, 2002, the ship prematurely sank and rolled over, leaving its upside-down bow protruding above the ocean’s surface, which was deemed a navigational hazard by the U.S. Coast Guard. The team of workers on the ship had scampered to safety and escaped injury, but the story captured worldwide media attention and the Spiegel Grove quickly became the best-known artificial reef even before the first recreational diver descended on it.

A massive effort resulted in the ship being fully sunk on its starboard side June 10, 2002, and after a salvage operation to recover lost equipment, the ship opened to divers June 26, 2002.

During the morning of May 17, 2002, the ship prematurely sank and rolled over, leaving its upside-down bow protruding above the ocean’s surface. SERGIO GARCIA/ Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department

But the saga of the Spiegel Grove wasn’t finished. In early July 2005, the vessel was discovered in an upright position — the position that the dive community had originally hoped for — after Hurricane Dennis brushed the Florida Keys with tropical storm-force winds.

The commemorative celebration also includes the May 17 kickoff of the “Spiegel Grove 20th Anniversary Dive Trip Giveaway.” The prize includes a three-night Key Largo accommodations-and-dive trip, valued at over $2,500, to dive the famous wreck — still the world’s third-largest ship ever intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef and one of nine iconic wreck diving sites along the Florida Keys Wreck Trek.

On May 17 — the 20th anniversary of the ship’s sinking — the public can enjoy “Celebrating the Spiegel Grove at 20: A Saga Too Strange Even for Hollywood!” BOB CARE/Florida Keys News Bureau

The contest entry page link will be published in posts on the Florida Keys’ Facebook page and as a link below the bio (@thefloridakeys) on Instagram and Twitter. The trip giveaway entry period begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 17, and continues through 11:59 p.m.,Tuesday, May 31. Rules and terms will be available on the contest page.

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