|FYI — February 2004|
|By Brad Dunn|
The final of a fleet of retired “Redbird” subway cars was submerged 16 miles off Wilmington, marking the completion of the first of what will become dozens of artificial marine habitats along the East Coast. The first car hit the seafloor in August 2001; today it is covered with mollusks, barnacles, and other sea life in need of a home.
Celebrating even more than the mollusks, charter-boat captains and recreational fishermen view the subway reef as a resurrection of their livelihood.
“The success has been astounding,” says Capt. Jerry Blakeslee, president of the Delaware Captains Association, a trade group for charter fishing businesses. “Almost too good,” he adds, explaining that the waters are so teeming with fish now that many day trips end early because everyone onboard catches their limit.
When the idea was pitched to sink 619 steel subway cars in Delaware, many environmentalists predicted an ecological disaster. The sorest subject: the asbestos tiles that lined the old No. 7 trains. “There’s conflicting opinion on whether the cars are safe or desirable,” says Matt Burns, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which passed up the trains for other reef-building structures. “Our first choice was to use more benign materials.”
Environmental opinions ran the other way in Delaware, however. EPA oceanographer William Muir studied the asbestos issue and concluded that the material, which poses a carcinogenic threat in the air, does not pose the same risk underwater.
“From our standpoint, it is a resounding success,” Muir says, adding that the cars, which are expected to last up to 25 years before decomposing on the ocean floor, attract thousands of species of marine life.
That’s reason enough for state representative V. George Carey, who voted to approve the artificial reef project.
“This is a win-win situation,” Carey says. “New York is willing to give us these cars they’ve cleaned up, and we get a reef where fishermen can go catch fish.”
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This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.