The last deployment of 32 armored personnel carriers decommissioned by the South Carolina Army National Guard was 45 feet to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean eight miles off Port Royal Sound where they are now part of a condominium for fish.

The 16,500-pound steel carriers were dumped on the Beaufort 45 Reef earlier this month, where they joined a 105-foot fuel barge, 20 old M-60 tanks and rubble from the old Broad River Bridge that have been dumped there over the years.

It was the 40th deployment on artificial reefs maintained by the state Department of Natural Resources since the ReefEx program began in 1997. SCDNR and the National Guard have joined forces to sink tanks, APCs, old fighter jets and other decommissioned equipment on 33 reefs along the coast.

The program provides the National Guard with a way to dispose of junked equipment that has steel too hard to be recycled. Col. Pete Brooks said that without the reef program the Guard would be "stuck with fields and fields of obsolete vehicles."

The vehicles are stripped of their engines and other internal parts and drained of any hazardous fluids to comply with federal environmental standards before being dropped into the ocean.

Once on the bottom, the totally gutted and cleaned APCs and other structures on the reef grow barnacles and algae, followed by sponges. coral and other marine life that attracts fish sought by anglers, including sheepshead, Spanish mackerel and black sea bass.

"They are basically one big box for the fish to swim through, and they're squeaky clean by the time we dump them," said Melvin Bell, director of SCDNR's Office of Fisheries Management.

The reefs provide sport anglers and divers areas to fish and explore that would just be deserted sand bottom without them.