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Okaloosa sinks 45-ton tugboat with mermaid on board

Okaloosa County deployed a new artificial reef last Wednesday, a 1940s 45-ton tugboat named MISS JOANN that aims to expand both habitat for fish and adventure for divers.

Alex Fogg, the coastal resource manager for Fort Walton Beach and Destin, was pleased to report that the deployment went perfectly according to plan.

“We are out here about 16 nautical miles from Destin’s East Pass deploying a 64-foot tugboat in about 120 feet of water.”

The tugboat sank in a dramatic display of crashing waves, and Fogg was pleased to see it stick the landing.

“It went outstanding. We left the pass around 6:30 and we got on site around 9:30 and this puppy was down probably before 11. Nice early day, we are doing some dives now to see how it landed.”

Fogg and his team of divers went down right after the boat to ensure it landed correctly, retrieve camera equipment, and map out the reef’s location in relation to the other reefs at the site.

“A diver just came up and said it did land upright,” Fogg declared proudly.

The artificial reef that was deployed had a long history, and even assisted in other reef projects.

“The vessel that was sunk today was actually constructed in the 1940s. It was a tugboat that did a lot of duties running the different rivers and actually moving other artificial reefs offshore.”

The tugboat also features a sculpture of a mermaid holding a staff from a local diver and artist, Meganne Powell. For Powell, the deployment was a full-circle moment.

“It was just the best day ever. It was better than I thought it was going to be. She looks perfect down there.”

Powell created this statue as a tribute to her husband after his passing following a battle with ALS. She and her husband, Stephen Powell, would dive to sites just like the one her statue now decorates.

Sculpture by Meganne Powell
Sculpture by Meganne Powell

“Seeing my statue on the wreck was just phenomenal. I tried to put a word to it the other day and I think it came down to just really satisfying. That it is just done. And she is just beautiful.”

The addition of the tug and the new sculpture has turned this site into an attractive location for divers and sea life. According to Fogg, the height of the new vessel will attract desirable species of fish.

“We actually have two wrecks out here already, one's a sailboat and one’s a catamaran, and they’ve been out here for about a year now and there's already a lot of life,” Fogg said. “We are just adding to it by giving a little more vertical relief to attract some of those more pelagic species of fish like amberjack and cobia.”

Fogg sees these sites as critical, considering that there are relatively few natural reefs along the Okaloosa coast.

“We really lack a lot of the natural habitat like limestone and coral that other locations have so deploying the shipwreck, concrete, or other materials is really important.”

In order to ensure the vessel is safe for deployment and won’t add pollutants to the environment, it must undergo a long series of modifications, tests, and inspections.

“Each vessel is different. It depends on age, if they were created before the 1970s or 80s then they may possess some materials that aren’t environmentally friendly, so we have to mitigate that by removing it and testing to make sure that everything’s okay before we deploy,” Fogg said. “We also need to remove all the wood, plastics, all the rubber, pretty much anything but the metal itself. That process can sometimes take more than six months.”

According to Fogg, Okaloosa has also recently received the green light for some exciting future deployments.

“Over the last couple years we’ve been very active in deploying artificial reefs, a couple modules and smaller vessels, but most recently we got a 5-year plan approved to deploy some really large vessels. We have a couple small vessels coming down the pipes. We are pursuing two 190-foot research vessels from Louisiana which we hope to sink in the next year.”

Fogg hopes to deploy even more artificial reefs in the future, both to provide critical habitat and to attract adventure-seeking divers.

“We have great diving here, great visibility, and great access to deeper water if you want that. We just lacked a lot of those artificial reefs. We are trying to create more attractive locations for people to dive and really build that industry here.”

To find out more information about current reef locations and future deployments, visit destinfwb.com.