DESTIN, Fla. (WMBB) — The retired research vessel MANTA plunged to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico Sunday morning.

The 180-foot-long ship was rusting in a shipyard until Destin officials acquired it for use as an artificial reef.

We try and take advantage of this and procure these for basically the price of scrap and use them, clean them up and deploy them as artificial reefs,” Okaloosa County Tourism Development Department Coastal Resource Manager Alex Fogg said. “This really is an awesome opportunity for the destination.”

Almost 40 people from across the southeast were onboard a charter boat to witness the sinking of the MANTA.

“It was really neat to watch,” Destin History and Fishing Musem Executive Director Vivienne Williams said. “This is the first one I’ve ever seen, so it was really unique. It made some really interesting sounds that I didn’t think were going to happen from a sinking ship. And of course, all the air bubbles were really fun to watch come up after.”

The ship now rests at a depth of just over 100 feet and will make for a multipurpose undersea attraction.

“Deploying these large vessels provides not only great habitat for the fish but a really cool destination for people to go diving,” Fogg said. “Everyone wants to come to a destination and dive a shipwreck, and these large wrecks are really what people are after.”

This is now the second-largest artificial reef off the coast of Okaloosa County.

Destin officials hope to sink another almost identical research vessel named the DOLPHIN in about a month. That ship will rest just southeast of the MANTA.