BIG DAWG US Air Force Vessel dropped into Gulf as artificial reef

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DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — Artificial reefs are the new thing, and more keep popping up in the Gulf of Mexico. Including the retired US Air Force retired vessel BIG DAWG.

The 93-foot US Air Force steel-hull water training vessel is already starting to populate marine life at its new home 104 feet below the surface. The reef can be found about 14 miles southwest of the Destin Pass.

“Our destination is unique and we’re fortunate to have the opportunity offer diverse recreation options for our citizens and visitors, through the Artificial Reef Program.”

Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners Chairman Carolyn Ketchel

BIG DAWG was given to Okaloosa County in June of 2020 and has since been cleaned and cut out to be environmentally friendly underwater. It was placed in the water on May 7, 2021.

More information from Okaloosa County:

Alex Fogg, Okaloosa County Coastal Resources Manager with Destin-Fort Walton Beach TDD managed the acquisition, preparation and deployment. After many months of preparation to ensure the vessel was clean and environmentally friendly, a local contractor, DreadKnot was hired to prepare (clean), tow, cut holes and pump water into the vessel sinking it to the bottom.

Once the mission was complete, divers inspected the new reef and reported a perfect, upright landing with sea life already starting to gather.  Details on the Okaloosa County Artificial Reef Program can be found at destinfwb.com/explore/ecotourism-hotspots/artificial-reefs/

Additional agencies onsite for the deployment included representatives from Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Hurlburt Field, Eglin Air Force Base, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and US Coast Guard.

In the months before the reef was deployed, Okaloosa County worked with DreadKnot Charters in transporting BIG DAWG to Choctawhatchee Bay for deployment preparations following National guidance of preparing artificial reefs, County processes for vessel deployment and guidelines specified in the Army Corps of Engineers permit. Once regulatory agencies were notified of final preparations, a 14-day pre-deployment notice was issued, providing the opportunity for final inspections. A pre-deployment survey was conducted of the seafloor to ensure there were no natural bottom features, historic resources or existing artificial reef material.

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