After decades of ferrying passengers back and forth daily through the New York City mass transit system, some older subway cars eventually become obsolete or break down and become too costly to further keep in service.
While those retired subway cars could be hauled off to a scrapyard for recycling or simply left to rust in a landfill, there is another seemingly unlikely location where many actually end up, and at first glance it has hippies and environmentalists absolutely horrified.
Viral Forest shared a gallery of photos taken in 2015 by a New York-based photographer named Stephen Mallon that documented the unique manner in which retired NYC subway cars are loaded onto a barge, taken out into the Atlantic Ocean, and then dumped over the side to sink to the bottom.
However, it should be pointed out that this is done not to use the ocean floor as one massive dumping ground, but to instead create artificial reefs that are attractive and beneficial to all sorts of aquatic life, not to mention providing a boost to the recreational and commercial fishing industry.
A National Geographic article from 2006 explained the project of creating artificial reefs with old subway cars was begun in 2001 by the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority, and thousands of their old subway cars are now found off the east coast all the way from New Jersey to Georgia.
Prior to being loaded onto a barge and dumped into the ocean, the cars have their greasy undercarriage and wheels removed, as well as the doors, windows and seats. Then they are inspected for other potentially dangerous materials and given a powerful steam wash, both inside and out.
“Seeing these massive mechanisms being tossed into the ocean like a toy in the bathtub is a ping in my heart,” wrote Mallon of the process, according to the U.K. Daily Mail. “At first I was stunned, the moments of violent recycling, watching the water quickly adapt to its new underwater houses.”
“After being pushed and stacked like a sardine in these subways cars over the past decade, it is nice to see the sardine actually getting one of these as its new steel condo,” Mallon continued.
“The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s recycling program has been involved for the past decade, retiring over 2,500 subways cars to the ocean to help rebuild underwater reefs along the eastern seabed,” the photographer added. “These are my images, seconds before these mass transit vessels join history in building homes for life under the sea.”
As can be seen, it doesn’t take long before small aquatic creatures of various types, from invertebrates to small fish, seek out the sunken cars as shelter from larger predators.
After five to ten years, the cars are nearly unrecognizable, as they are almost completely covered in coral, mussels, and oysters and provide a near-perfect ecosystem and relatively safe habitat for crabs, shrimp, fish and other marine life of all shapes and sizes.
This is pretty cool, and, far from the first impressions of the uninformed, is actually quite beneficial to the environment, way more so than simply letting the cars rust down to nothingness in a landfill.
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