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State Promotes Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner was in Pensacola this week to kick off a “Beyond the Beaches” promotional campaign highlighting the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail.

It was developed in 2012 by the Florida Department of State’s Bureau of Archeological Research, in partnership with Panhandle waterfront communities. Designed to stimulate tourism, and educate residents and visitors about Florida’s maritime history, the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail highlights 12 shipwrecks boasting artificial reefs and varieties of sea life for diving, snorkeling and fishing along Pensacola, Destin, Panama City and Port St. Joe, Florida. A unique passport program highlights discovered facts and historical data for each of the shipwrecks along the Trail.

“We are proud to announce a multi-faceted marketing campaign raising awareness and driving tourism through the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail,” said Secretary Detzner. “With BP grant funding, we are executing advertising, public relations and promotional programs to create interest beyond the beaches of our great state and encouraging exploration of our maritime heritage.”

Following the dockside press conference, local partners and media participated in a dive to San Pablo, one of the twelve dive sites featured on the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail. Throughout the week, journalists from key dive and travel magazines arrive in Pensacola to experience the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail and showcase the vast offerings of the Trail and its host cities in editorial articles. Other locations to be explored include the WWII ship USS Oriskany, which was sunk off the coast of Pensacola and the Miss Louise near Destin. The final dive will take place Saturday at sites near Panama City.

One of the leaders of the dive excursions was state archaeologist Franklin Price, who provided a little historical information about some of the shipwrecks.

For instance, the San Pablo was a freighter launched in Belfast, Ireland in 1915. It was sunk off the coast of Pensacola in 1944. “It’s a very interesting history, because it had been a banana boat that was a refrigerated freighter that brought fruit from Central America to the United States. “The local lore knew her as the “Russian Freighter” and felt that it was sunk in artillery practice. In actuality, it was sunk as part of a top secret OSS operation,” says Price, explaining that the OSS was a precursor to the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). He adds that the ship was sunk by a boat, remote-controlled by a bomber several miles away, through a TV camera at its bow that was full of explosives.

Vamar, sunk off the coast of Port St. Joe, was built in England as a patrol gun boat. The steamer became famous as the vessel that took Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s American expedition to the South Pole in 1928. After the expedition, Vamar became a tramp freighter. Carrying lumber to Cuba in 1942, the ship sank under mysterious circumstances while leaving Port St. Joe.

The Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail is good for history, recreation, and heritage tourism. Additionally, Price says another good thing about shipwrecks is they become habitats, over time. “Each of these wrecks is actually its own eco-system there on the bottom and it attracts myriad marine life from sponges to invertebrates through to fish, and then bait fish and then the fish that feed on them.”

Price says it’s good for people to know that Florida is more than just beaches. He points to the state’s rich heritage and history, and to the world-class diving that now exists here in Northwest Florida.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.