KEY WEST, Fla. (CBS) — Divers unfurled a rainbow flag, an internationally recognized LGBTQ symbol, underwater Friday on an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The installation of the banner on the 523-foot-long Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg took place in conjunction with Key West’s Pride celebration that ends Sunday, June 9. The island city is a leading destination for LGBTQ visitors.
The Vandenberg’s flag, however, doesn’t just feature the traditional rainbow stripes. It also incorporates the blue flag of the Florida Keys’ “alter ego,” the Conch Republic. The island chain symbolically “seceded” from the United States and proclaimed itself the independent Conch Republic in 1982 to protest the establishment of a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint at the entry to the Florida Keys.
The Vandenberg, a former missile tracking ship that monitored Soviet launches during the Cold War, was purposely scuttled 10 years ago to create an artificial reef. Located about seven miles south of Key West in 150 feet of water, it is the world’s second-largest vessel intentionally sunk for that purpose.
The artificial reef was created to relieve human pressure from natural coral reefs, provide additional habitat for marine life and create recreational fishing and scuba diving opportunities.