« Back to Press Landing

Walton County Tourism Partners to Deploy DEEP STIM III Artificial Reef

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. – Walton County Tourism, in partnership with Destin-Fort Walton Beach and Visit Panama City, has combined resources to bring a new artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The tri-county initiative, funded through tourism dollars, saw the deployment of the retired vessel R/V DEEP STIM III on her final voyage to join hundreds of other artificial reefs in the Gulf. 

“Artificial reefs are an amazing resource for providing habitat for marine species as well as providing a tourist attraction for fishermen and divers,” said Melinda Gates, coastal resource liaison for Walton County. “Artificial reefs are a great way for communities to partner and leave environmental legacies for generations to come.”

The R/V DEEP STIM III was transported to her final destination, about 16.5 nautical miles off the coast of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park on Jan. 30, 2024. Nearby well-wishers and observers on smaller boats cheered as a plume of air and water vapor burst near the bow of the research vessel while she sank below the blue waves of the Gulf.

At 239 feet in length, R/V DEEP STIM III is now the second-largest artificial reef in Northwest Florida. The largest artificial reef in Northwest Florida is the Oriskany (CVA-34), which is 911 feet in length. 

Additional funding for reef modules on the deck of the vessel was provided by the South Walton Artificial Reef Association and the Emerald Coast Reef Association. The Coastal Conservation Association provided funds for the towing fees necessary for the deployment.

While artificial reefs are known to create important habitats for a variety of marine life, large-scale reefs like this are also known to attract visitors from areas far beyond Northwest Florida’s traditional markets.

“Anytime that we have an opportunity to partner with our neighboring counties on an important project like this, we certainly want to take advantage of it,” said Matt Algarin, tourism director for Walton County. “Not only will this project create a new marine habitat, it will also add to our thriving local fishing and diving scene. This is a perfect complement to our existing snorkel reefs and our Underwater Museum of Art.”

The R/V DEEP STIM III artificial reef is located at 30° 03.035’N 86° 17.758’W.

Photos: https://platform.crowdriff.com/m/s-iMO2TV5qVq6AHpxm