A football field-sized artificial reef pitched for Juno coast

Updated Nov 20, 2017
Three cement hammerhead shark sculptures by Thomas McDonald were lowered into the water of the Lake Worth Lagoon at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach Friday, June 19, 2015. It is hoped that the clarity of the water will attract a great deal of sea life. The sculptures weigh about 1500 pounds each. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

A new artificial reef — this one a former U.S. submarine the size a football field — will be the latest underwater destination for divers next summer if supporters can raise $3 million to scuttle it off Juno Beach.

“People of all walks of life see this as so compelling. It attracts attention like the moonshot,” said Joe Weatherby, senior project manager for Miami-based Artificial Reefs Incorporated, the company hired for the cleaning, sinking and securing the the 2,500-ton Clamagore in about 90 feet about 1½ miles off the Juno Beach Pier.

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Palm Beach County Commissioners in January unanimously approved paying ARI $1 million. The money is from a trust fund fed by vessel registration fees. The state gives about $500,000 a year to the county’s Department of Environmental Resource Management.

ERM has deployed more than 45 vessels, 82,000 tons of concrete and 130,000 tons of limestone boulders creating artificial reefs off Palm Beach County.

Through the sale of T-shirts and other means, supporters have raised about half of the additional $3 million needed for the Clamagore project Weatherby said.

The deadline for raising the $3 million is Jan. 10. The sinking of the Clamagore is planned for June 15, 2018.

The diesel-powered Clamagore, built in 1945, just after the end of World War II, ran up and down the Atlantic coast from Key West to Charleston and trained sailors to track Soviet nuclear subs. It was retired in 1975. Since 1981, has been docked since at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston, South Carolina.

The submarine, also known as “the Grey Ghost of The Florida Coast,” is being moved because officials can no longer afford to maintain the submarine at Patriots Point.

“This project will be huge for the scuba diving, fishing and veteran’s community,” said Randy Jordan of Emerald Charters in Jupiter.

READ: Divers deliver revenue, tourists to Palm Beach County

The plan calls for opening up one side of the 322-foot-long submarine before sinking. When the submarine settles on the sandy bottom, divers will be able to swim inside to explore. Fish, crustaceans and other sea life will find shelter in the nooks and crannies, just like they would with a real reef.

“It will be an underwater museum for divers and a nursery for sea life,” Weatherby said.

Opponents of artificial reefs say reefs don’t increase the amount of fish, but concentrate them around a specific area. That makes it easier for fishermen to catch them, resulting in over fishing.

READ: Artificial reefs installed in shallow waters around Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse

Also, damage can be done to the sea floor and nearby sea life while the artificial reef is being deployed. And no matter how much a ship such as the Clamagore is cleaned, toxic chemicals can remain and seep into the ocean. Also, artificial reefs can come loose from the bottom during a storm and cause damage to ships and the sea floor.

Weatherby countered that creating additional areas for fishing, diving and snorkeling protects nearby natural reefs from overuse.

“When divers visit artificial reefs, it takes pressure off the real reefs,” he added. “Plus, it’s a growing economic engine for the local hotel and tourist economy.”

Click HERE to see list of Palm Beach County natural and artificial reefs

Organizers are also looking for a land location for a museum to put the historic artifacts from the submarine on display. Some will be sent to military museums around the nation, Weatherby said.

“Visitors will be able to look through a real WW II periscope,” said Weatherby.