Below the ocean’s surface rest giants, the wooden and steel beauties that once demanded the sea’s attention. Laying there, quietly, patiently suspended under the weight of water, what secrets do they hold? What lost memories are kept in their walls now at the bottom of the sea?
There is such a strange and calming silence when a diver approaches these quiet giants. In the middle of a sandy desert, a diver approaches a dark shadow. As the current pushes them closer, the shadow grows and one can begin to make out the shape of a bow or stern. Even closer, and it becomes apparent the shear size of the sunken vessel towering overhead. Dark and mysterious, yet full of life…and forgotten memories.
Many of the wrecks off the coast of Palm Beach, FL were sunk in the 1960s and now sport coats of sponges and coral growth, surrounded by underwater life. One in particular, the Mizpah, is a very popular wreck to dive off the south Florida coast. Once a private Greek luxury liner, she was commissioned by the US government for service in WWII, her rails outfitted with guns, patrolling the coast for German U-Boats. After decommission, she sat abandoned in a storage yard for scrap for some time before being re-discovered. Her original family could not bare to see her wither away on land, so they cleaned her up and helped give her a proper burial at sea.
I had the honor last August to dive with the granddaughter of the family who purchased the Mizpah, and later restored her to glory by making her a new artificial reef in the waters off of Palm Beach. My dive buddy showed me photos of the vessel back in her prime and shared stories of childhood memories on the boat as a young girl. It was an incredible experience getting to watch her eyes light up when she first saw the Mizpah underwater…how it had become a beautiful habitat for fish and sea creatures alike. Seeing her excitement and, post-dive, her quiet reverence, made me realize there are secrets and lost memories in the water-logged walls of these sunken vessels. And that these forgotten walls now have new purpose and “life”.
Once at the bottom of the sea it doesn’t take long for this new purpose to become evident. These sunken giants attract life quicker that you might expect. In Palm Beach in particular, come mid-August through October, the wrecks are surrounded by Goliath Groupers. More gentle giants of the underwater realm that migrate to Palm Beach County in order to spawn. And, it turns out, their favorite places to aggregate for spawning are around the wrecks.
Here in Palm Beach, dive operators have created The Palm Beach County Diving Association (PBCDA) to give divers and dive operators a bigger voice in local ocean-related issues, and to aid in the sinking of other ships as part of an active artificial reef program. This October 6th, the PBCDA is hosting its annual Artificial Reef Fundraiser at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach. All proceeds from the event benefit the creation of artificial reefs in Palm Beach County. Tickets include an evening of entertainment, delicious food and beer, and a plethora of raffle and silent auction prizes. Tickets are available for purchase online at www.divepbc.com/participate. All are welcome to attend and be a part of the local underwater history. And the next time you dive the wrecks of Palm Beach, remember they were placed there with care and a community commitment in the hopes that new habitat allows new underwater life.