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239-foot vessel will be second largest artificial reef in Destin-Fort Walton Beach

The vessel, which was constructed in the 1990s for offshore oil exploration, will now become the second largest artificial reef off the Destin-Fort Walton Beach coast when it is deployed in October.
DEEP STIM III (Alex Fogg)

A new artificial reef is coming to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach area thanks to a Tri-County partnership between the Tourist Development Departments in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach, and Walton County.

In late February, the Okaloosa Tourist Development Council approved allocating funds from tourist taxes to support the next phase of the County’s 5-Year Artificial Reef Plan. This plan included acquiring and deploying a 239-foot former (oil) well stimulation vessel called the R/V DEEP STIM III as an artificial reef.

The vessel, which was constructed in the 1990s for offshore oil exploration, will now become the second largest artificial reef off the Destin-Fort Walton Beach coast when it is deployed in October. 

  • “This deployment will demonstrate how a joint project such as this will work and pave the way for a future larger-scale project,” Fogg said. 
DEEP STIM III (Alex Fogg)

The vessel was originally quoted at $1.8 million to acquire, clean, prepare, tow and deploy as an artificial reef but was reduced to $750,000 for the entire project. Additional funding from the Emerald Coast Reef Association and South Walton Reef Association will pay for extra reef modules to be added to the deck to enhance the marine habitat. 

  • Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) also contributed funds specifically for the towing fees to bring the ship to its final destination. 

Once deployed, the vessel will be accessible to a wide range of dive levels as it sits in a range of depths from approximately 70-feet at the top of the wheelhouse to 135-feet at the sand. The majority of the vessel deck will sit at 100-feet, ideal for an advanced dive experience. 

DEEP STIM III (Alex Fogg)

In addition to diving, the 65-foot high-relief site will provide an outstanding fishing location and provide habitat for popular species like Amberjack. The added reef modules enhance the overall habitat and will attract fishing favorites such as Grouper and Snapper. 

  • The vessel will be deployed in the eastern extent of Large Area Artificial Reef Site A approximately 22 NM from Destin East pass, 29 NM St Andrews Pass and 16.5 NM due south of Walton County. 

Fogg explained that the tri-county partnership allows for expanding artificial reef programs that attract divers and anglers.

  • “Our area boasts a significant amount of fishing and diving so it only makes sense that we work together to increase the opportunities,” he said. “Collaborative projects like this will open the door for future opportunities that continue to benefit locals, visitors and the environment.”
DEEP STIM III (Alex Fogg)

The massive steel vessel, free of hazardous materials like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), fuels, plastic and non metal items will create a unique, high-relief diving and fishing location. Advanced divers can explore the deeper levels of the vessel including the added models to the deck, while novice divers can explore the shallower wheelhouse and mast. For fishing, the structure will attract a wide variety of fishing favorites such as Grouper, Snapper, Amberjack, and Cobia. 

DEEP STIM III (Alex Fogg)

With county funding supporting preparation and deployment, local nonprofit groups like the Emerald Coast Reef Association and CCA were able to target donations specifically for enhancements like additional reef modules and towing costs. This allowed the project to expand in scope and impact.

According to Fogg, the artificial reef system plays an important role for the local community and economy. Having a robust system not only diversifies the available habitat but it attracts more visitors interested in fishing and diving adventures. He explained that artificial reefs also benefit the environment by providing habitat for marine life. 

The Destin-Fort Walton Beach artificial reef initiative demonstrates the area’s commitment to ecological stewardship and expanding opportunities for visitors and locals to experience the natural beauty of the area both above and below the water’s surface. Collaborative projects like the R/V DEEP STIM III artificial reef showcase how multiple partners can come together to make a significant positive impact.

The Okaloosa Coastal Resource Team plans to deploy the week of October 9, pending good weather conditions.

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Community Comments

“1B................Let FWB grow.”
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“Amazing article!!! Jared Williams is an incredible writer and this article captures the incredible things happening in our community! Thank you Jared! Linda Dugan”
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“Awesome... The kind of people, that need a safe, affordable home for themselves and their families, without your judgment. .”
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“Curious who is funding Gregg Chapel so he can build cheap housing here. Curious what kind of residents he looking for to move here.”
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“This is extremely upsetting. I hope the parents of this young man sees this as a " Cry for Help" and move forward in getting him evaluated., into counseling with...”
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“Will the Hurlburt golf course be open?”
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“I really think this is a great idea. My only concern is what is planned at the base of the Destin bridge. I am not a proponent of any development...”
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“Traffic signals have a definite limit to how many cars an hour can pass under them. The signal system downtown has been beyond capacity since 1990. To increase capacity additional...”
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