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Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail introduced to divers in NW Florida

(DiverWire) Already known for its world-class dives, including the world’s largest artificial reef, the USS Oriskany, the Pensacola Bay Area is now giving avid divers several other reasons for exploring the waterways of America’s first European settlement. As part of the brand-new Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail, developed by the Florida Department of State’s Underwater Archaeology Team, the Pensacola Bay Area is home to five of the dive trail’s 12 offshore shipwreck destinations along Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“This new underwater trail represents our latest effort to showcase a portion of Florida’s vast collection of shipwrecks,” said Florida’s Secretary of State, Ken Detzner. “Each location along the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail offers an adventurous opportunity for heritage, recreational and ecological tourism.”

Launched last month, the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail consists of 12 unique and historic shipwrecks, all of which are protected by law and many of which were sunk as artificial reefs and have become popular fishing and diving destinations off the shores of Pensacola, Destin, Panama City and Port St. Joe. They are located in varying depths of water and are home to a wide array of marine life.

The Pensacola Bay Area is home to five of these sites, which include YDT-14, a veteran U.S. Navy dive tender sunk in 2000 at a depth of 90-100 ft.; San Pablo, an international fruit freighter that was destroyed during World War II by a top-secret U.S. military operation testing an experimental weapon system; the oilfield supply vessel Pete Tide II, which became an artificial reef in 1993 and offers three decks of superstructure to explore; Three Coal Barges sunk in 1974, which offer a great location in shallow water; and the world’s largest artificial reef, the famous USS Oriskany, sunk in 2006 after serving in the Pacific Ocean.

“Pensacola had long been one of the diving world’s best-kept secrets until the sinking of the USS Oriskany, which is now one of the most popular diving destinations in the world,” said Terry Scruggs, Visit Pensacola’s interim vice president of tourism. “The development of the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail provides visitors an opportunity to learn first-hand about the Pensacola Bay Area’s rich maritime history, while exploring our underwater heritage sites.”

Divers may purchase an official Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail Passport for $5 at participating dive shops and dive charter operators along the coast. The branded Passport contains information on each of the shipwrecks, complete with individual logs to fill in at each stop, which is validated with an official sticker. Upon completion of the trail, divers will receive a certificate of completion, a certification card and a t-shirt. For a list of participating partners, visit FloridaPanhandleDiveTrail.com.

A product of the Underwater Archaeology Team of the Bureau of Archaeological Research, Division of Historical Resources, of the Florida Department of State, the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail is funded in part through a grant agreement from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Coastal Management Program, and by a grant provided by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  In partnership with several waterfront communities along Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, the initiative was designed to stimulate tourism and highlight the state’s historical and ecological assets.

To learn more about the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail and explore the Pensacola Bay Area’s diving sites, go to VisitPensacola.com.