SAN DIEGO, California -- The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association congratulates the Florida Senate and House of Representatives for unanimously passing legislation which establishes a matching grant program titled Ships to Reefs. This bill, sponsored in the Senate by Mike Bennett, and in the House by Doug Holder, would authorize the sinking of decommissioned U.S. Military vessels as artificial reefs to increase marine habitat and tourism opportunities associated with recreational scuba diving and fishing.
With 380 decommissioned Navy ships already acting as marine habitat, Florida leads the nation in the number of vessels functioning as artificial reefs. Each year, thousands of visitors choose Florida to scuba dive on the artificial reef trail, providing an economic boost to the communities of the 272 Florida-based retail dive centers and local diving operators, as well as surrounding hotels and restaurants. A recent study estimates that the economic impact of the USS Vandenberg, scheduled to be sunk off the coast of Key West later this year, will generate between $56-$168 million over the next ten years.
"Artificial reefs provide the opportunity to increase nature based eco-tourism and scuba diving tourism," stated Tom Ingram, the Executive Director of DEMA. "The sunken aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, which is the world's largest artificial reef, is so popular amongst the diving community that some local dive operations have up to a three month waiting list for divers to get on a boat to access Florida's newest artificial reef. According to one study, artificial reef sites based on sunken ships generate an average of $3.4 million in gross revenues annually. The expenditures of divers visiting artificial reefs in Florida were more than $220 per person per day."
In addition to being spectacular dive sites, artificial reefs provide additional hard bottom habitats that favor many species of large reef fish. Additionally they provide alternatives to the natural reefs that can alter human usage patterns and reduce user pressure on the natural reefs.
DEMA supports the new legislation to establish a program for artificial reefs and strongly encourages Florida Governor Charlie Crist to sign the bill as soon as possible. If the bill is signed, the new legislation will go into effect on July 1, 2008.
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