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Earth Science

Old Subway Cars As Artificial Reef 169

Pickens writes "Hundreds of retired New York City subway cars are being sunk sixteen nautical miles off Delaware's Indian River Inlet and about 80 feet underwater, continuing the transformation of a barren stretch of ocean floor into a bountiful oasis, carpeted in sea grasses, walled thick with blue mussels and sponges, and teeming with black sea bass and tautog. 'They're basically luxury condominiums for fish,' says Jeff Tinsman, artificial reef program manager for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Subway cars are roomy enough to invite certain fish, too heavy to shift easily in storms, and durable enough to avoid throwing off debris for decades. Tinsman particularly favors the newer subway cars with stainless steel on the outside to create reefs. 'We call these the DeLoreans of the deep,' he said. But success comes at a price because other states, seeing Delaware's successes, have started competing for the subway cars, which New York City provides free. 'The secret is out, I guess,' said Michael G. Zacchea, the MTA official in charge of getting rid of New York City's old subway cars."
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Old Subway Cars As Artificial Reef

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  • Good idea! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy ( 963289 ) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @02:55AM (#23009874) Homepage Journal
    This shore is a good idea! (speaking littorally of course)
  • Fools! (Score:5, Funny)

    by jimmux ( 1096839 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:00AM (#23009916)

    'We call these the DeLoreans of the deep,'

    You fools! If the dolphins develop time travel there will be no stopping them!

  • by Shadukar ( 102027 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:02AM (#23009938)
    1. dump some old trash in the previously perfectly fine ocean
    2. ???

    • by Scruffy Dan ( 1122291 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:52AM (#23010194) Homepage

      in the previously perfectly fine ocean
      The ocean hasn't been previously fine for a very long time now.
      • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @08:12AM (#23011254) Journal

        We've also been leaving large steel objects on the ocean floor for quite some time (>100 years), both accidentally [wikipedia.org] and deliberately [wikipedia.org] . These are the least of our concerns when talking about ocean pollution. If you actually want to do something about the ocean start talking about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch [wikipedia.org], because that's far more harmful to marine life then a few sunken subway cars or ships that actually provide shelter for fish and a surface for coral to grow on.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by PegLegPete ( 551042 )
          Are there any images/video of this "continent sized" garbage patch? Not a single reference link from the Wikipedia page contained an actual photograph of this garbage patch. If this garbage patch is actually twice the size of the United States, surely someone has photographed it?
          I'm beginning to think it's more of a headline, than a reality. I don't doubt there is an unacceptable level of garbage floating around out there, but it shouldn't be asking much to have some direct evidence of it. So far, it'
          • by electrictroy ( 912290 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @11:16AM (#23013222)
            I've seen videos on History and Discovery Channel. It isn't one giant mass of garbage. It's a nice clear ocean, and then suddenly your ship will come-upon a ship-sized "mass" of accumulated garbage just floating in the middle of noplace. The ocean currents tend to gather trash in a few discrete locations (which should make it easy to clean-up, if any nation decided to take-on that task).

            re: Running out of cars.

            If they find themselves running out of New York subway cars, maybe they could try using passenger cars. We've got plenty of them laying around, just waiting to become a "fish condo".

            • by joggle ( 594025 )

              If they find themselves running out of New York subway cars, maybe they could try using passenger cars.

              They don't just sink ships or other vehicles without cleaning the contaminants off of them first. It would probably be too cost prohibitive to rip the seats out of cars, drain all the fluids and thoroughly degrease them. Besides, it's profitable to recycle cars so there's really no reason to sink them (whereas it's not always profitable to recycle larger vehicles due to the cost to disassemble, transport and process them).

        • People have sunk objects with the purpose of protecting coasts for hundreds of years. For example see http://www.vitiaz.ru/congress/en/thesis/149.html [vitiaz.ru]. Also there is a big ship that was sunk in front of Venice hundreds of years ago to limit the tidal effects.
        • It seems that if you create a man made reef and then run low voltage electricity through it [nationalgeographic.com] coral will grow 5-10 times faster.

          When I honeymooned in Bali we went snorkeling around these structures. They seemed perfectly safe and the corals were amazing. The coral growth on the structures seemed far more prolific than that on the ocean bottom.
    • "Hey, I've got a brilliant idea for how to cheaply dispose of our trash! We just pay off a few researchers and convince the government that our waste products are actually beneficial for the environment!"
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      1. dump some old trash in the previously perfectly fine ocean
      2. ???

      I kind of feel like what goes into #2 is not real hard to figure out, but: As far as I can tell, artificial reefs do two things (and I am not in any way an expert on this, I'm mostly just remembering from an article about them doing this in Australia and a quick Google of 'artificial reef' to double check my recollections): create a sort of breakwater to prevent beach erosion, and provide a spot for things like


      I have a luxury couch and an old luxury TV the fish could use...
  • Typo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arotenbe ( 1203922 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:17AM (#23010016) Journal

    Subway cars are roomy enough to invite certain fish, too heavy to shift easily in storms, and durable enough that we won't have to care about them throwing off debris for decades.
    There, fixed it for you.
  • Getting mugged by a harpoon weilding, cowry shell demanding aquatic gang member. Insane.
  • What a great idea!

    And, this article coming right after the article showing how the major oilfield in North Dakota might just be viable.

    There's hope for this country yet!

    I wish there were some underwater photos showing what the subway cars are like after spending several years underwater. (The CGI animation doesn't count.)
  • asbestos (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dancingmad ( 128588 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:33AM (#23010098)
    I actually read this article earlier today (they're coming for my slashdot credibility card!) and it mentioned the amount of asbestos and other materials in the cars. Does anyone know how that comes into play in a marine environment?
    • by McNally ( 105243 ) <mmcnally@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:38AM (#23010140) Homepage

      Does anyone know how that comes into play in a marine environment?
      Clearly the fish will be at an increased risk of lung cancer.
    • Re:asbestos (Score:5, Interesting)

      by adolf ( 21054 ) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:51AM (#23010190) Journal
      Asbestos is a real danger to humans because it gets stuck in lungs. Fish, lacking lungs, shouldn't have this problem. Stuff goes *through* the gills, not into and out of them. My experience keeping fish shows that solids regularly pass through the gills of fish in the process of eating.

      The asbestos is probably safer down there than anywhere else, I'd guess.

      • by rednip ( 186217 )
        IIRC, the biggest cost of creating any of these artificial reefs is stripping out asbestos, oils, and other contaminants.
      • by Lxy ( 80823 )
        Even more important, the problem with asbestos is the PARTICLES. A big chunk of asbestos causes no harm, it's the little dust particles coming off of it.

        Underwater, there is no dust. In fact, water is needed for proper removal. If you really think about it, the safest place to put asbestos is deep underwater.
    • Re:asbestos (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:51AM (#23010192)

      As far as I recall, asbestos is really only dangerous to human lungs because, when "disturbed" in an open air environment, it disperses into rather tiny particles that annoy your lungs rather severely.

      I'm not sure entirely what relevance that has to a water environment, except that it seems fish's gills work significantly differently than human lungs.

      • by barzok ( 26681 )

        As far as I recall, asbestos is really only dangerous to human lungs because, when "disturbed" in an open air environment, it disperses into rather tiny particles that annoy your lungs rather severely.
        And no other air-breathing creature faces this same risk?
      • by aztektum ( 170569 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @11:00AM (#23013016)

        except that it seems fish's gills work significantly differently than human lungs.
        that may explain how they can survive underwater?
    • like hydrocarbon grease and lubricant, paints and coatings with possibly toxic compounds, the plasticizers and antioxidants in the plastic and foam,......
      you could keep an entire university of scientists busy for years
      and alot of the stuff is probably, if you look hard, sourced from china, so it may not even be what it is supposed to be, eg very very toxix pbbs (poly brominated biphenyls) are banned in civilized countrys..
    • Well if you had comprehended the reading asignment ;-) you would have seen:

      "State and federal environmental officials approved the use of the Redbirds and other cars for artificial reefs in Delaware and elsewhere because they said the asbestos was not a risk for marine life and has to be airborne to pose a threat to humans."

      Don't forget that asbestos is a naturally made substance [wikipedia.org], not a man-made one.

    • I actually read this article earlier today (they're coming for my slashdot credibility card!) and it mentioned the amount of asbestos and other materials in the cars. Does anyone know how that comes into play in a marine environment?

      Good News! We at the Slashdot Literary Action Group (SLAG) have decided you can keep you're 'Credibility Card' since, although you claim to have RTFA, you clearly didn't get anything out it. To wit:

      The American Littoral Society and other environmental groups opposed the us

    • A good way to handle asbestos, if you have to clean it up some place is to spay water on it. This keeps the dust down. Th danger is if you breathe the dusts. asbestos by itself is a natural substance and not harmfull untill it is disturbed and gets into the air.
  • by niktemadur ( 793971 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:39AM (#23010146)
    With an eye on recycling materials and reducing construction costs for storage cellars, some wineries in northern Mexico have opted for this great idea:
    Dig a deep trench, place old RR cars inside, then fill the trench up again with dirt. And there it is, a cave build like a Lego. A little bit of retrofitting may be necessary, especially where car doors meet, but still, you can save a ton of money in this fashion.
    Surely, not only Mexican wineries are using the same technique.
  • by artg ( 24127 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:46AM (#23010172)
    I thought scrap metal values had gone insane recently - I know this is a sort of recycling, but I'm surprised the cars aren't worth a lot for the steel.

  • by Werkhaus ( 549466 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:48AM (#23010182)
    Brisbane,QLD has had an old Brisbane Transport tram as part of the Curtin Artificial Reef since 1981.
    http://www.urgq.org/curtin_artif_reef.htm [urgq.org]
  • by WoTG ( 610710 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @03:55AM (#23010210) Homepage Journal
    Out here we've sunken many ships to make underwater habitats for fish. The boats are stripped of oils, paints, and hazardous stuff before sinking -- well, nowadays, anyway. Great for scuba divers to look at, so I've been told.

    I can't find a great link in 10s of searching, but this is a start:
    http://www.divingbc.com/ [divingbc.com]
    • by Skater ( 41976 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @07:11AM (#23010946) Homepage Journal
      Check out the fate of the aircraft carrier USS Orisanky. [wikipedia.org] New York has been dropping subway cars this way for a long time: here are some pictures of Redbird cars being sunk this way [njscuba.net] several years ago (site requires Javascript so they can show you annoying sliding ads on both sides).
    • by malkavian ( 9512 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @07:42AM (#23011092)
      Speaking as a Scuba Diver, these artificial reefs are great. It takes a few years to build up life, but eventually, it becomes a great habitat for a huge variety of life. Even in the early days, you get a lot of 'visitors' as fish start poking round in all the nooks and crannies.
      Over time, decay does set in, and the 'debris' does come loose. This isn't like street litter though. It tends to stay close to the wreck, and the fragments that are too small tend to rust away rather quickly, or be abraded to a sand.
      There are reasonably strict regulations on what can be dumped in as an artificial reef (oil, and all the nasty sea life killing stuff is removed first). And as far as studies go, there's a rich history of wrecks, some of which went down without any cleaning whatsoever, and they are invariably colonised quite rapidly by sea life. Empirical evidence is there aplenty. And with the newer reefs, there are many scuba divers frequenting them (and a good portion of scuba divers are very possessive of the environment, as we get to see the real damage done by running roughshod over it).
  • by G3ckoG33k ( 647276 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @04:02AM (#23010232)
    Hoopla, I tried for ten minutes find anything about the negative impacts of artificial reefs, using Google Scholar ( http://scholar.google.com/ [google.com] ).

    I used "artificial" and "reefs" in combinations with words like "bioaccumulation", "pcb", "tyres", "pollutants", "chemicals", etc.

    Surprisingly, I only found statements like "needs more research", "no measurable effect" and no-brainers like that.

    Could it be that I missed those true alarmist reports I guessed would be there?! One read like:

    http://www.flseagrant.org/program_areas/ecosystem_health/artificial_reefs/index.htm#21 [flseagrant.org]

    "The oil ash and control reefs were constructed with the aid of divers in just one day, and monitoring of the reefs was carried out for one year. Leaching of trace metals from the blocks was extremely slow, and only limited instances of enhanced bioaccumulation of metals were observed. However, pressure from environmental groups led the electric power industry and the State of Florida to discontinue construction of artificial reefs from stabilized waste material."

    I don't want to play this in the hands of waste mongers, but hope some could actually find some more conclusive results.

    Don't get me wrong. Play it safe, please.

    • by saforrest ( 184929 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @08:10AM (#23011246) Journal
      Could it be that I missed those true alarmist reports I guessed would be there?! One read like:

      It's not a scholarly reference, but there are definitely clear examples of deliberately-constructed artificial reefs which were ultimately damaging to marine ecology. Read about the Osborne Reef Waste Tire Removal Pilot Project [state.fl.us] in Florida:

      The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is partnering with the Broward County Environmental Protection Department, Navy Salvage Divers from Norfolk, VA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program to conduct a pilot project to remove waste tires from a site known as the Osborne Reef. Approximately 2 million tires covering 36 acres were placed in the water off Broward County in the 1970s to create artificial reefs. Today the tires are physically damaging coral reefs as storms move the tires toward the shore. A pilot project will collect sample tires to determine how the 2 million tire pile can be collected and disposed of properly.
  • Emperor's clothes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Psychotria ( 953670 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @04:05AM (#23010252)
    A very pretty picture is painted for what amounts to environmental vandalism. (paraphrasing): "We are creating a tropical paradise, where diversity parallels that of the Galapagos Islands. The majestic undersea garden will support myriad species, the colours and the life will rival any natural environment, and will, in fact, surpass anything that nature could create. We are dumping this waste in the ocean for the common good. The beautiful seaweed will dance a serenade, attracting fishes and tourists alike. Because the trash increases the potential habitats (and micro-climates), species diversity must increase--niche species which would otherwise have difficultly surviving will flourish.

    Yes, dumping rubbish is the sea is a Good Idea(TM). The secret is out!
    • why do you hate marine animals? because this is giving them new habitats, being opposed to it must mean you want little flipper to go without a home.
  • by slew ( 2918 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @04:07AM (#23010258)
    I remember a long time ago when people tried to dump old tires in the ocean with the thought that they could form the basis for an artificial reef. Apparently that didn't work out so well... [usatoday.com]

    Maybe it'll work out better this time...

    • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @04:41AM (#23010386)
      They also have dumped a considerable amount of nuclear waste and nerve gas into the oceans. Don't worry though that was decades ago and the barrels should last 50 years.
    • by rampant poodle ( 258173 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @08:44AM (#23011514) Homepage
      Fortunately there is a big difference between old tires and subway cars, (in both the composition and mass). This is more like sunken ships. Ships of wood, steel, and concrete have provided excellent marine habitat for a very long time. Those that are sunk intentionally as reefs get stripped/cleaned of hazardous materials before going down. Wartime and accidental sinkings aren't as "green" - but still work pretty well.

      In a previous life I worked on fishing boats out of Indian River Inlet. There was already a good selection of wrecks in the area, including an U-Boot from WWII. All the wrecks are hot spots both for fish and for divers.
  • The vast majority of Deloreans ever made are still on the road, driving, in good condition. I'd call these the Yugos of the deep instead.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LMacG ( 118321 )
      Point, head, you, whoosh, etc... The subway cars clad in stainless steel are called the DeLoreans of the deep.
    • The vast majority of Deloreans ever made are still on the road, driving, in good condition. I'd call these the Yugos of the deep instead.

      Many of the redbirds were more than 50 years old when retired and all had around 10 million miles on them. Even at the end of their lives, they traveled 30,000 miles in between maintenance stops.

      Come talk to me when either a Yugo *or* a Delorean is that reliable.
  • Couldn't these cars be given to another city or town?

    A train is pretty expensive (e.g. refurbishing old trains in London is costing £1million per train, it's several times that amount for a new train). Fair enough if the subway trains in New York are too outdated to be refurbished, but if this isn't the case they should be in another city that can't afford new trains.

    (For one example, the Pyongyang Metro in North Korea uses old trains from subways given to them by East Germany.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CRCulver ( 715279 )

      The only other cities in America with metro systems are happy with their own trains, and unfortunately due to the American lack of interest in public transporation, metro systems aren't spreading much to new places.

      By the way, are you familiar with the rumour that the Pyongyang Metro isn't actually in public use? Some say that it is only run when foreigners tour it, and everybody on board are actors.

      • by xaxa ( 988988 )
        Fair enough. I looked through some of the Wikipedia articles for old subway trains used in London, it seems almost all of them are scrapped at the end of their life (about 50 years in total, with refurbishment within the last 10-20 years of their life).

        I can see an American city not wanting the old trains -- it's probably not too good for public image -- but other countries might.

        I am familiar with that rumour, but there's also a report from a BBC journalist who slipped his 'guide' in Pyongyang. He doesn't
        • The redbirds were long past the end of their useful lives. Read this: http://www.nycsubway.org/cars/r262829.html [nycsubway.org]

          While still reliable given their age, it was no longer cost effective maintaining them. At a certain point, it becomes more affordable to buy new cars than to keep maintaining the old ones. These cars would bankrupt any city that couldn't afford to buy new cars. If a city can't afford to buy new cars, then they couldn't afford to maintain these ones.

          They were also just not very nice anymore b
  • by benwiggy ( 1262536 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @06:33AM (#23010796)
    Did no-one else notice the most important part of this story?

    You can get subway cars for free!

    I'll have five, thanks.
  • Damn you, Apple! Why do you keep turning my subway cars into bricks after every other update?

            Sorry, I couldn't resist.
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @07:41AM (#23011074) Homepage
    All of these "artificial reef" projects seem questionable to me.

    The idea that tossing junk into offshore waters is beneficial... well, as the Church Lady used to say, "Isn't that convenient?"

    In the 1970s, there was a similar project in Florida, involving discarded tires. The system used to hold the tires in place failed after a few years, tires started to come loose, the fact that it wasn't stable made it a failure as an artificial reef, mildly toxic stuff started to leech out of the tires, and the whole thing was an environmental disaster. The process of cleaning up the tires, now in progress, is expensive and labor-intensive. Read about it here [wikipedia.org]

    The sea is a very corrosive environment. Before starting this project, did anyone check to see whether there are any subway cars that have already been in the ocean for a few decades to see what's happened to them?

    In the case of these subway cars, I'd worry about copper. Copper is deadly poison to most marine organisms. It's the bane of people who try to set up salt-water aquaria.

    I notice that the article doesn't say that the subway cars contained no electric wiring. Nor does it say that all the copper was removed from them before scuttling them.
  • Great Idea. (Score:4, Funny)

    by RandoX ( 828285 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @07:58AM (#23011164)
    They should do this with barrels of nuclear waste too.
  • Littering? (Score:2, Funny)

    by egandalf ( 1051424 )
    Then why did I get arrested for pushing a car into the local river? I was trying to help the environment, people!
  • CSI:NY (Score:3, Informative)

    by airship ( 242862 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @10:06AM (#23012362) Homepage
    They used this in one of last season's episodes of CSI:NY. They found a dead scuba diver, and that led them to discover another one lodged in a submerged subway car.
  • ...Those were perfectly usable housing for the downtrodden masses of the declining United States.
  • by penguin_dance ( 536599 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @10:16AM (#23012486)
    This reminds me of the people that complain about oil rigs in the environment and yet they create some of the best fishing areas [sportfishingmag.com] around for the same reason. The rigs become a reef environment.
  • It might be fun to convert one into an office. Pre-lit, lots of windows, and likely watertight. Better than an old school bus, anyway.

    Now, getting it here... that could be tricky.
  • Aircraft too... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Wednesday April 09, 2008 @11:55AM (#23013754)
    The Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia have even sunk a retired Boeing 737 airframe off the east coast of Vancouver Island:

    http://www.divemaster.ca/boeing/ [divemaster.ca]

    Prior to the sinking it went through an extensive environmental cleanup until eventually all that was left was metal.

  • How long do you think it will take the fish to work out that the train is out of service? If they are all experienced AMTRAK passengers, it could be a very long time.

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