U.S.S. Oriskany, From Aircraft Carrier to Largest Artificial Reef in the World
Turning Ships into Artificial Reefs
Some naval vessels such as the U.S.S. Oriskany get a second life. Instead of being sent to ship-breakers, they get a second career as artificial reefs and are turned into habitat for marine species.
The largest of those is the U.S.S. Oriskany (nicknamed Mighty O, The O-boat, and Toasted O), a Essex-class aircraft carrier that was launched in 1945 and commissioned in 1950. It was sunk by the Navy 24 miles (39 km) south of Pensacola, Florida, in 2006, and its 44,000 tons became an artificial reef where 38 species of fish have been seen so far.
The decision to turn the carrier into a reef was made in 2004. Environmental remediation work (costing $20 million, and they still left 700 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, mostly in the electrical wiring insulation), and ecological and human health studies were conducted by Navy scientists in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency to make sure that sinking the ship wouldn't cause problems.
A Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal team from Panama City, FL detonated C-4 explosive charges of approximately 500 total pounds (230 kg) net explosive weight, strategically placed on 22 sea connection pipes in various machinery spaces. Thirty seven minutes after detonation, the ship sank stern first in 210 feet (64 m) of water in the Gulf of Mexico.
The US Navy is currently sitting on 59 inactive ships. Most will be turned into scrap metal, but some will become artificial reefs if the U.S.S. Oriskany experience turns out well.
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