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Artificial Reefs Are Great, But Only If They Work

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

Back in 2011, a thousand subway cars from New York City were retired and shipped off to coastal areas in Delaware, New Jersey and Georgia where they were then dumped in the ocean to be turned into artificial reefs. They were predicted to last for 25 years but started to disintegrate almost immediately after a few days in the water. This was due to how the subway cars were made.

Artificial reefs are important environmental tools in combatting climate change and restoring marine biodiversity. The earliest account of artificial reefs dates back to 17th century Japan, where large chunks of rubble were used to serve as kelp gardens and habitat for fish. Since then, other artificial reefs have popped up around the globe, being made from shipwrecks, sunken military tanks, and 3D printed ceramics. Last summer, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow alum about his artificial reef plan which involved using small 3D printed structures specifically designed for coral to grow on them.

Related: 7 Insightful Facts About Microplastics In The Ocean

As I mentioned above, the subway cars from New York City started to deteriorate right away and were unable to sustain reef life. This was due to the material they were made out of and the location they get dropped. These two things matter, as the material is obviously important because it needs to last long enough for a reef to form. The location on the other hand is a different story. An object dropped can sink into the sediment if it's too heavy, but if the object is too light, it will be overturned by ocean currents and hurricanes.

However, if the object dropped is made of a long-lasting material and lands in that perfect spot, there's a pretty good chance fish and other marine fauna will take it to it and soon enough, a reef will form. One of the most successful artificial reefs is Redbird Reef, made from a different type of NYC subway car off the Delaware coast. The MTA tried to replicate this with the other subway cars, but we already know how that went. Check out this list of other artificial reefs to see some other examples of success.

These man-made reefs are important in rehabilitating the Earth's oceans but setting them up is a bit of a gamble. If they work, then great! An artificial reef was made, and ocean habitat is increased. If it doesn't work, then the ocean becomes more polluted than it was before. Hopefully, more research can be done on this topic so that we know for sure what can and will always work when trying to create an artificial reef. If you ever get the chance to visit one, I highly suggest taking it so you can see firsthand how they are beneficial to the Earth and the ocean.


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