San Diego, Calif. – (March 23, 2007) – The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) is pleased to announce that the “Ships 2 Reefs” bills before the Florida House of Representatives (House Bill 759) and the Florida Senate (Senate Bill 1856) have been sent to the next levels within the Florida legislature for consideration. House Bill 759 was unanimously voted out of the House Conservation and State Lands Committee on March 21, 2007. Senate Bill 1856 was passed unanimously, without question or comment, by the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee on March 22.
DEMA supports both versions of the Ships 2 Reefs bills. Both seek to help develop environmentally-sound artificial reefs to benefit local Florida communities, using retired government vessels. These artificial reefs have been a proven resource of revenue to fuel job growth, help grow local businesses, and provide recreational facilities for residents and tourists. According to Tom Ingram, Executive Director of DEMA, “If passed, these bills will help assure that communities in Florida have an opportunity to acquire retired ships for reefing purposes. That’s great news for everyone in the community because these artificial reefs help boost the local economy, fuel job growth, and provide sales tax revenues through increased tourism activity. It is an especially important and direct benefit to local diving businesses."
HB 759 and SB 1856 will establish a statewide matching grant program. Local coastal communities seeking to acquire a ship for use as an artificial reef could receive state funds for one-third of the needed dollars, once they have raised at least two-thirds of the money required for securing and placing the vessel. The matching funds would be placed in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund, and state funds would be used to match those raised by local communities with an eye toward generating tourism dollars and creating local jobs. With limited ship inventory available for reefing and the possibility that retired government vessels might be sold for scrap in the future, these bills are timely and important to Florida’s tourist and Ships 2 Reefs efforts.
These bills also provide a new and exciting theme for Florida’s Maritime Heritage Trail, a Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources program designed to educate the public about Florida’s heritage. The newest Trail established by these bills would create a U.S. Military vessel component that included the significance of these decommissioned vessels.
This legislation also sets up a “pilot program” for the former USAFS Vandenberg, inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and off the coast of the City of Key West, where the ship will generate tourism dollars and jobs, and serve to help redistribute recreational pressure between the natural reef and the artificial structure. Preparations are under way to bring the former Vandenberg to Florida in the coming months.
Research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Florida State University indicates that Florida’s artificial reef program has been a world leader for many years in dollars generated and jobs created. The recent overwhelming economic success of the former USS Oriskany demonstrates the economic possibilities for local communities when large ships are deployed as artificial reefs. The Pensacola Florida Convention and Visitors Bureau invested $1 million dollars in bringing the former Oriskany to Pensacola, and recently estimated their entire investment was returned during the three days immediately after the former aircraft carrier was sunk.
DEMA, the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association, is an international organization dedicated to the promotion and growth of the recreational scuba diving and snorkeling industry. With more than 1,400 members, this non-profit, global organization promotes scuba diving through many initiatives including consumer awareness programs, media campaigns and sponsorship of the DEMA Trade Show. For more information on DEMA and Ships 2 Reefs, call 858-616-6408 or visit www.dema.org or www.ships2reefs.com.