The USS Mohawk, now an artificial reef
Southwest Florida’s best-kept secret isn’t found downtown, on a beach or on an island – in fact, it’s not found anywhere on land. It’s a network of artificial reefs hidden underwater. Since the 1980s, it’s grown into both an alluring activity and a vital tool for conservation.
Coral reefs are a small part of the ocean but have a huge impact on the environment. Among other things, they help sustain a quarter of the world’s marine life and give important coastal protection from storms and erosion. The sparkling, sun-soaked waters of Southwest Florida aren’t quite right for coral growth, so where natural reefs don’t exist, artificial structures can create some of the same benefits. That’s why SWFL Reefs has repurposed steel towers, box cars and even a bus to create more than two dozen man-made reefs.
Where there was featureless sand, there’s now intricate sets of twisting metal and cut out concrete, stretching from the shallow water of Charlotte Harbor to more than 30 miles offshore. More than 250 species of fish call these reefs home, making these sites an angler’s playground and providing stunning sites for recreational divers.
If you’re looking to scuba dive, you must be dive certified and present your certification card prior to boarding your boat. H20 Offshore Adventures is one of many local charter companies that offers fishing and diving charters to our artificial reefs, including:
In 2012, this 165-foot World War II cutter was purposely sunk about 28 nautical miles off of Sanibel Island. It quickly became the region’s premier dive site, especially once divers reported sighting whale sharks. Giant sea turtles also consistently populate the novelty reef. efore reaching its final watery resting spot, the Mohawk, commissioned in 1935, served illustriously. It survived 14 attacks by German U-boats and rescued 300 torpedoed ship survivors.
One of the county’s first and most accessible artificial reefs, this one wallows in 30 feet of water about six miles south of Sanibel Island. The site comprises 11 different components, from a barge and rubble from a 50-foot concrete boat to culverts and concrete pilings. Year-round, the site delights fishermen and divers with dolphins, snapper, amberjack, parrotfish, redfish and more than 250 other species.
Built in 1927, the steam vessel Pegasus worked for most of her life in New York Harbor, eventually converted into a floating restaurant there. She ended up in Fort Myers Beach as a cruise ship’s ticket office. hen she became derelict in 1999, the county sank the ship in 88 feet of water in an area known as Charlie’s Reef. Its deep waters insure a great variety of large fish, including goliath grouper.
What’s most fantastico about this 115-foot former-life fertilizer freighter? Every August through October, as if conjured for a Disney film, hundreds of 8-foot goliath grouper congregate for spawning season. Taken down in a hurricane in 1993 as it made its way from Miami to Tampa, Fantastico languishes in 115 feet of water about 37 nautical miles from shore.
It survived a German U-boat attack in 1918, but a hurricane proved a worse enemy the following year, when one slapped it to the gulf’s sandy floor. The years have taken their toll on the old 400-foot freighter. It may be upside down and broken in half, but still recognizable and a great dive. Loggerhead sea turtles frequent the wreck, which lies about 27 nautical miles west of Gasparilla Island.
For more information on fishing, diving and other water sports around Southwest Florida, click here.