Diving on a wreck is always a humbling and exciting experience, but diving on the largest military wreck of all time, the USS Oriskany, offers a truly astounding insight into history.
The Oriskany is the largest artificial reef in the world, built for the United States Navy after WWII and decommissioned in 1975. The ‘Mighty O,’ as it was affectionately known, served in the Pacific Theatres of war during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
Visiting the USS Oriskany
After the lengthy scrapping and cleansing process, the Oriskany was sunk in 2006, 24 miles (39 km) off the southern coast of Pensacola, Florida. Fitted with an array of explosives, the complicated sinking process was a success and the mighty ship came to rest on the sandy bottom in an upright position in 210 feet (64 m) of water. Recreational divers will reach the can access the deck’s island structure at 70 feet (21 m), but the flight deck now rests at 145 feet (44 m) after Hurricane Gustav in 2008 shifted the wreck 10 feet deeper.
Diving the Oriskany
Many dive operators in the area offer trips to the Oriskany. Recreational divers will need to hover above the immense ship, which measures 900 feet (280 m) long and 145 feet (40 m) wide, allowing a great deal of life to prosper in the rich Floridian waters. Obviously, any reef takes time to flourish, yet those who have dived on the wreck religiously for the last 12 years confirm a plethora of life. Mola molas, tiger sharks, barracuda, whale sharks and even manta rays occasionally circle the wreck, while octopus, moray eels and crabs commonly hide themselves in the wreck’s many crevasses, only seen with a passing light from a diver.
The legacy of the Oriskany
While creating a home for many marine species, the largest military ship in history also serves as a memorial for servicemen and a reminder of the past. While the sinking and cleaning process of the aircraft carrier cost $20 million USD, the University of Florida estimated that in 2007 alone the Oriskany earned over $4 million USD in revenue with all three Pensacola dive operators reporting over 4,000 trips to the wreck for diving and other forms of scientific expeditions. The ‘Great Carrier Reef,’ as it’s known, will continue to be not only Florida’s, but also one of the world’s most unique and interesting dive sites.