Miami Submerged

By: Greg Johnston

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Sunken treasures invite curious divers to explore Miami's waters.

Miami shares Fort Lauderdale's proximity to the Gulfstream, making it a natural destination for establishing artificial reefs. It doesn't take long for shipwrecks and other man-made items to become an integral part of the underwater landscape here.

Here are some of Miami's sunken treasures:

Tenneco Towers: Local divers will tell you that Tenneco Towers is the best artificial reef dive in South Florida. Sunk as a joint venture between Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and donated by the Tenneco Oil Corporation, the five former oil-drilling platforms were placed about a mile and a half offshore. The currents from the Gulfstream pass through its open structures. Only two of the platforms are within recreational diving limits, with top decks in depths of 60 and 70 feet of water.

When you swim beneath, in the giant shadow of the platforms, the structures are almost disorienting. Light streams through and around the huge steel legs that have the healthiest and most mature sponge and coral growth of any artificial site in Florida. In the winter months, keep an eye into the blue because you'll almost always see Bull sharks patrolling the perimeters. There are also angelfish, jacks, amberfish and tropical fish here.


The Doc DeMilly: Experienced divers will want to explore the impressive 287-foot steel freighter Doc DeMilly. Resting on the ocean floor in 150 feet of water east of the Pacific Reef Lighthouse, it was built in 1949 as the Nuevo Rio and renamed to honor a legendary Miami veterinarian and pioneer.

The Doc DeMilly went out with a bang in 1986, when air force jet fighters staged a mock attack on her, dropping concrete bombs while remote-controlled charges took her to the bottom. Visiting the huge ship is an awesome experience. Divers can touch down on its 70-foot profile superstructure and never fully see the wreck in one dive.


The Tarpoon: Local dive operators are also fond of the Tarpoon, which in 1988 was sunk in 70 feet of water just south of Key Biscayne. The bad news is that this 175-foot grain carrier was violently torn apart during 1992's Hurricane Andrew. The good news is that its twisted pieces of wreckage are still fascinating, along with the wreck's marine invertebrates and schooling fish.


The "Wreck Trek": New divers will enjoy a trio of wrecks just off North Miami Beach. Dubbed the "Wreck Trek" by local dive operators, the site is connected by underwater trails with steel stakes anchored to the sea bottom as markers. The trek includes the 85-foot tug, Patricia, the 100-foot steel fishing vessel, Miss Karline, and the old Radio Mambi antenna that was welded into 19 pyramids.


Two Tanks: In 1994, two miles east of the Eden Roc Resort & Spa, two U.S. Army tanks with their huge gun turrets still intact were sunk in just 50 feet of water. It's known, of course, as the best "two tank dive" in Miami.


Celebrity Sinkings: In keeping with its star-gazing character, Miami boasts some celebrity sinkings as well. Hugh Downs, an avid diver and former host of ABC's 20/20, was on hand in 1989 when the 105-foot tug Rio Miami was sunk in 80 feet of water. Nearby, the 1995 sinking of the 165-foot freighter Tortuga (renamed Fair Game) brought the artificial reef program even more publicity. Cindy Crawford is known to have that kind of effect on just about any event (the ship was sunk as part of a movie Crawford made with Billy Baldwin). The huge ship is easily penetrated and has attracted lots of marine inhabitants.


The Orion: It's been more than 30 years since Miami's first intentionally sunk ship became the beginning of a very successful artificial reef program. And it's still one of the very best dive sites.

The good ship Orion is the perfect introduction to artificial reef diving and summarily the best ending. Underwater since 1981, the 120-foot tugboat guided ships through the Panama Canal for almost 50 years before it was sunk three miles off Key Biscayne.

For more information on diving the Miami area, contact the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (800-933-8448 or at www.miamiandbeaches.com). Or, or visit South Beach Dive and Surf Center (305-531-6110, southbeachdivers.com).

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