Pensacola Beach is home to the world's largest artificial reef.

Pensacola Beach is home to the largest artificial reef in the world. (Photo courtesy of Visit Pensacola.)

Pensacola Beach makes the ranks as a top vacation destination, thanks to its pristine shoreline, emerald water, and family friendly attractions. But did you know there’s even more to explore beneath the water’s surface? Pensacola Beach is home to the largest artificial reef in the world and five dive-friendly shipwreck sites.

The naval vessel U.S.S. Oriskany was built in 1945 following World War II and is now the largest artificial reef in the world. Termed “The Great Carrier Reef,”  a thriving ecosystem of nearly 40 species of fish and marine life call it home.

Commissioned in 1950, the 44,000 ton ship began its retirement in 2006, when the Navy sunk it southeast of the Pensacola pass. At a depth range of 80 feet to 212 feet, experienced divers can explore the Mighty O, often referred to as the Everest of diving. Not to mention, Southern guests get great deals on diving charters to explore the shipwrecks.

Oriskany is one of twelve sunken carriers along the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail. Five of the twelve sites are in Pensacola and vary in dive complexity.

The Three Coal Barges are a perfect spot for diving novices. When the three barges broke away from their transport in 1974, the Navy sank them to prevent them running ashore. At only 50 feet deep, The Three Coal Barges are an ideal introduction to the panhandle shipwreck trail.

The remaining three sites off Pensacola Beach range from 80-100 feet deep: San Pablo, Pete Tide II, and YDT-14.

Of the three, San Pablo has the most captivating history. It started as a fruit transport between Central America and the U.S., after being launched in Ireland. Then in World War II, a German U-boat sank it near Costa Rica. They attempted to repair it, but ultimately declared the ship a total loss. Later, the military used San Pablo for target practice. Just recently, in fact,  the military revealed it destroyed San Pablo in a top secret weapons-test operation and sunk it in 1944.

Not only are these shipwrecks famous for their history, but for their current residents as well. These include wahoo, black fin tuna, and barracudas.

Plan your stay and make it a point to visit one of the stops on the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail, and  explore all the things to do in Pensacola Beach.