Last surviving ship to serve at Iwo Jima laid to rest off Delaware coast

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Photo courtesy of the Sportfishing Fund

The 205-foot US Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa – believed to be the last surviving ship that took part in the amphibious landings during the Battle of Iwo Jima – was sunk 26 nautical miles from both Lewes, DE and Cape May, NJ.

The versatile vessel that went on to fame as a Coast Guard cutter will form a reef that will form a habitat for fish.

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The sinking onto the Del-Jersey-Land Inshore Reef was carried out by Norfolk-based marine contractor Coleen Marine for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in partnership with New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection.

First built and commissioned as harbor tug in 1943 in the Pacific Northwest, Zuni/Tamaroa was scuttled in Atlantic waters where she worked as a Coast Guard cutter for almost 50 years. The ship gained more fame for its rescues during “The Perfect Storm” of the early 1990s. The fishing boat lost in a storm became the subject of a book and movie

“The Zuni/Tamaroa is a boon to Delaware’s artificial reef system that’s supported our recreational fishing industry for more than 20 years by expanding habitat,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “Our reef system has grown steadily through DNREC’s dedicated efforts and strong partnerships with federal agencies and our neighboring states. Reefing the Zuni/Tamaroa is another good investment in Delaware’s conservation economy, both enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities and benefiting marine life by as outstanding habitat.”

Zuni/Tamaroa was sunk on the Del-Jersey-Land Reef at a depth of about 125 feet, joining the former Army freighter turned Navy support ship Shearwater, the minesweeper Gregory Poole, and the 563-foot destroyer U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford – the largest vessel ever deployed off the East Coast as an artificial reef, and also sunk in a partnership with New Jersey.

The Del-Jersey-Land Reef, jointly managed by Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland, was established 10 years ago specifically for reefing former military vessels.

Former New York City subway cars have also been sunk off the coast as part of reef-building areas in an area of the ocean with few hiding places for marine life

Plans to restore the Tamaroa as a living history museum fell through over the ship’s advanced age and costly repairs that made such a plan unfeasible.

Instead, Tamaroa was prepared for reef deployment by undergoing environmental preparation that included removal of interior paneling and insulation and draining of fuel and hydraulic fluids.

Older vessels such as the Zuni/Tamaroa are ideally suited for artificial reefs “because of all the voids and cavities in them below deck – the perfect sanctuary for fish,” said Delaware reef coordinator Jeff Tinsman. “Not long after the sinking, the fish will start to come inside her hull and decks to seek protection from predators and bottom currents. Within a few weeks, blue mussels, sponges, barnacles and soft corals will attach themselves to the structure, and in about a year the reef will be fully productive – for fish and anglers alike.”

Delaware paid for the bulk of the Zuni/Tamaroa’s acquisition, preparation, and sinking, using federal aid in Sport Fish Restoration Funds, with matching funds provided by New Jersey DEP, which received support from TheSportfishing Fund.

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