Artificial Reefs Epitomize Logical Recycling

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Miles off the coast of Ocean City along the bottom of the Atlantic could soon be the new home for hundreds of used subway cars if the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Ocean City Reef Foundation have their way. At last week’s meeting, the Ocean City Mayor and Council threw its support behind the initiative.

Although the cost associated with buying the decommissioned cars and the subsequent expense to place them offshore is only an estimate at this point, $700 per car, the council is to be commended for recognizing the benefits of this project and encouraging the effort.

There is no question artificial reefs help underwater habitat and subsequently boost fishing and all that’s associated with it. Martin Gary, fisheries biologist with Maryland DNR, put it simply. “The nice thing about subway cars is it’s a mini-housing unit for fish and marine life,” he told the council last week.

Additionally, at its most fundamental, we admire the proposal’s creative means of taking advantage of a basic recycling premise here. Most people understand recycling as enabling another use for a discarded item, such as newspapers, cardboard, aluminum cans and glass bottles.

On a grander scale, this project is that and then some. For years, millions of people utilized these subway cars in metropolitan areas to get from one point to another. They relied on them for transportation. They provided a valuable service, and the mere potential the cars’ life could be extended, as another source of dependence, is wonderful. The only difference is this time it will be primarily serving aquatic wildlife, rather than human life. However, in not so indirect way, humans will benefit greatly from this initiative. The irony is clear.

When these cars were first presented to the Ocean City Mayor and Council years ago, concerns over unknown environmental hazards led to the proposal’s demise. While it was prudent to have worries at that time, hindsight, in all its clarity, has shown there was no need for those concerns. In the years since, the cars have been utilized in a number of states, such as New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina. All reports indicate there are no environmental hazards associated with them to date.

Building artificial reefs is nothing new to Ocean City. The town, led by a volunteer group, has been adding to its artificial reef system for years. Local fundraisers are often held to raise the money needed to buy old vehicles, boats, barges and used pieces of concrete. After being cleaned up and maintained by the proper folks and getting all the environmental clearances, they are later placed offshore at strategically chosen sites and soon after become home to habitat.

Placing more than 600 large subway cars offshore and expanding the current reefs or creating a new large underwater artificial system has exciting possibilities for Ocean City, the commercial and recreational fishing industries and the underwater habitat.

We hope the initiative moves forward immediately and does not get tangled up in bureaucratic nonsense as often happens when dealing with state agencies. There seems to be a willingness to move ahead with this project, and that’s a great thing because it will provide immediate benefits for all involved, from the critters living underwater to the watermen making money above the sea.

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