The Panhandle

Shipwreck trail may lure divers into the water

The Red Sea was a 125-foot tugboat that broke down off Miami and was towed to Bay County and sunk for an artificial reef in 2007

By Felicia Kitzmiller - News Herald Writer

Millions have enjoyed the sugar sand beaches and clear waters of the Emerald Coast, but far fewer have seen the attractions that wait off the coast, below the surface of the inviting waters.

The Panhandle is the No. 2 most popular drive-to recreational diving location in the country, only behind the Florida Keys, dive instructor and enthusiast Danny Grizzard said.

The Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s website lists more than a dozen popular dive locations including shipwrecks, bridge remnants, sunken Army tanks, aircrafts and more than 50 artificial reefs teeming with marine life.

In the months following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster that devastated the economy of the Florida Panhandle, Roger Smith, an archeologist with the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, said he found himself contemplating ways to help boost tourism in the struggling region.

Having recently completed two successful public education and interpretation projects related to diving – a collection, or trail, of underwater archeological preserve wrecks from the Keys to Pensacola, and another trail of the very popular fleet of sunken Spanish galleons in South Florida – Smith decided to stick to what he knows and honed in on the region’s already successful diving industry.

After contacting friends in the region, an idea has begun to take shape for an interactive map and trail of Panhandle shipwrecks that will hopefully pique the public’s interest and help bring people back to the Panhandle.

“This would present your classic shipwreck, because when people go diving, that’s what they want to see,” said Gizzard, who is helping to organize local dive shops to assist in the effort.