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Pensacola Offers Wild Times for SCUBA Divers

USS Oriskany Wreck STILL the World’s Largest Artificial Reef

Oriskany wreck PensacolaPensacola, Fla. – Plunging into Pensacola’s waters allows divers to explore sites including natural limestone reefs, an underwater archaeological preserve and the world famous the USS Oriskany, a retired aircraft carrier that is the world’s largest artificial reef. Thickly populated with marine life both common and rare, the “Mighty O” is a unique experience for recreational and technical divers alike.

“I’ve been top to bottom and end to end of this ship and I can tell you there isn’t one square inch that isn’t absolutely covered with life,” said Scott Bartel, a diver with a local dive shop, MBT Divers. “It began with small crabs and fish on the first day of reefing in May 2006 to thousands of scallops, which acted as a buffet for slipper lobsters and octopus. The cycle continued and now resident fish include large amberjack, grouper, clouds of red snapper and dozens of barracuda. It’s truly amazing.”  

A full array of tropical fish species and unique shellfish rounds out the incredible diversity the Oriskany offers. In addition, large predators ranging from Mola Mola (Ocean Sun Fish) and Manta Rays to the occasional Whale Shark were seen cruising the reef this past year. 

“The ship has rapidly become a hatchery for rare butterfly fish including the Double-Banded Butterfly as well as many others not typically seen on local reefs such as blue-headed wrasses,” said Capt. Tim Thorsen of Viking Diving. “There have even been sightings on occasion of parrot fish and spotted trunkfish.” 

Though tropical weather caused the “Mighty O” to settle eight feet into the sand last summer, the overall impact for divers was minimal, and there is still plenty to see above 110 feet. Divers often investigate the ship’s island beginning at 78 feet, the flight control tower at 95 feet and the wide open and easily penetrated navigation bridge at 120 feet.

For technical divers, the lure of the Oriskany is obvious. Sitting on a sand bottom in 220 feet of clear Gulf of Mexico water, the ship’s flag bridge lies at 130 feet, a seemingly endless flight deck at 145 feet and the massive hangar bay at 175 feet. Even trips with multiple dives can only begin to reveal all the Oriskany has to offer both recreational and technical divers.

Reefed some 24 miles southeast of Pensacola Pass, the location is ideal with warmer water and visibility averaging 100-plus feet. Its proximity near deep blue water occasionally allows divers to see species typically found at much greater depths including tuna, wahoo and marlin. The Oriskany is certainly the crown jewel of diving along Florida’s Gulf Coast and well worth the trip. Other popular Pensacola sites, including the wreck of the USS Massachusetts, the Peter Tide II, the Russian Freighter and the Three Coal Barges, offer a wealth of diving diversity appealing to divers of every skill.

Also under development are new projects aimed at beginning divers, snorkelers and fishermen. The GeoSplash Trail, scheduled for completion by summer’s end, is an aquatic version of the popular land-based Geocaching and combines dives at several sites with something akin to a treasure hunt. The final “treasure” will be located on the Oriskany’s superstructure. Other projects on Pensacola’s horizon include a reef for training and shallow dives near to shore in 45-60 feet of water, a fishing and diving reef in-shore at Park West, and snorkeling reefs at both Park East in the Gulf of Mexico and Park West in Santa Rosa Sound, both at Pensacola Beach.

To see a map of popular dive sites in Pensacola, go to

For more information about the Pensacola Bay Area, contact the Pensacola Bay Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 874-1234 or visit 

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