Lee County, Fla. -- We're discovering just how much an artificial reef can make a real difference for tourism. Divers and fishermen who use Lee county's two dozen reefs spend nearly $60 million a year. And the newest artificial reef in southwest Florida is attracting tourists from near and far.
On July 2nd 32 miles off the Lee county coastline, six strategically placed charges detonated and in three minutes and 24 seconds, the USS Mohawk sunk 90 feet to the Gulf floor to begin her final tour of duty.
In the three short months on the sea-floor, marine life aboard the Mighty Mo has flourished quicker than ANY ship reef recorded.
"30 minutes after the Mohawk went down, I swam over the front of the bow, looking over the anchor windless, and there was a Sergeant Major on there right away," explains Environmental Specialist Mike Campbell, whom without, the latest addition to the reef system in Lee County would not have been possible.
"It's very expensive to maintain a ship on top of the water; especially a museum ship," Campbell says. Mooring the Mohawk in Key West, where she served as a museum, wasn't cheap. The alternative? To scrap her or sink her as a reef. and Campbell fought for the latter.
Now, the former Coast Guard Cutter is home to thousands of fish from schools of bait fish and colorful cocoa damselfish to blue runners and the protected Goliath Grouper.
The largest fish in the world may be a new resident. A whale shark, 25 feet in length, has been spotted twice casually swimming around the Mohawk!
The reef is not only attracting a variety of sea-life but divers from near and far.
Originally from Fairfax, Virginia and having never dived in the Gulf before, mother-daughter dive buddies Jeanette and Cheryl McWilliams are sure to return. "The fish life is unbelievable for such a newly formed reef...visibility was great, the current wasn't too bad," they say.
Something tax payers will appreciate is the reef will be maintained by nature for the rest of her days, not tax dollars. Before the ship was sunk experts cleaned and prepared aging equipment onboard to ensure no negative environmental impact.