Subway Cars Thriving, Next Batch Arriving Soon

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OCEAN CITY – The first batch of retired New York City “Red Bird” subway cars sunk off the coast of Ocean City in mid-May are already crusting up with algae, coral and other habitat-creating life and funds are in place for several more barge loads when they become available.

On May 16, the first batch of NYC subway cars found a permanent home about 19 miles off the coast of Ocean City near the famous “Jackspot,” creating the new Susan J. Power Reef in the name of its donor. According to Ocean City Reef Foundation officials, the new subway car reef is already accomplishing the desired result with significant underwater growth on the stainless steel cars at the bottom of the ocean creating enhanced habitat on the reef.

“I think the new Sue Power’s Reef is doing great,” said Captain Monty Hawkins, a charter captain who has been at the front of the effort to build an artificial reef system off the coast of the resort. “I’ve tried it a couple of times to sort of take its pulse and I like what I’ve found. One day, we tagged 20-some flounder there, although no keepers, before we moved on.”

Hawkins said it would take several years for the new reef to grow out to fruition, however. While there is significant growth on the subway cars after just three months, they look nothing like they will next year or several years from now.

“The reef is huge,” he said. “I anticipate that it will be a while for settlement of mussels and fish, and their successive spawns to really bring it to life. I’ll be long gone before it’s encrusted in coral, but that day’s coming too.”

OC Reef Foundation Director Greg Hall agreed the subway cars are beginning to slowly transform into an artificial reef system, but also said the long term proof will be in the pudding. Underwater pictures of the cars reveal some growth on the cars, but they can still be clearly identified as what they are with New York Transit markings, numbers and even an American flag.

“They’re starting to get a little fuzzy with growth, which is good news,” he said. “It’s probably a little too early to tell if they are attracting fish. They need to season up some, but by next summer they’ll probably be teeming with life.”

The Ocean City Reef Foundation started raising funds for the project last November when it learned as many as 600 of the retired subway cars would become available for artificial reefs off the coast of Maryland. The fundraising efforts got a major jumpstart with a $50,000 private donation from fishing enthusiasts Jack and Susan Power, whose generous gift was used to fund the first barge containing 44 of the cars.

Hall said the fundraising efforts have been strong with funds in place for several more loads when they become available. New York Transit is releasing the cars to the states participating in the program on a rotating basis and Maryland’s turn will come around again likely some time this fall. Virginia dropped a barge-load off its coast in late June and South Carolina sunk 44 cars of its own about three weeks ago.

“We have cash in the bank for two to three barge-loads at least,” said Hall. “The key is to have the fundraising effort out in front of the donation schedule, which we’ve been doing. It will be great when they tell us we’re next and we can say here is the check.”

In the meantime, the Reef Foundation is moving forward with other projects. For example, plans are in the works to dump several tons of concrete pipes on a new site near the existing Kelly’s Reef in honor of the late Bud Bower, whose sons remain ardent supporters of the foundation. Hall said 18-20 tons of the new concrete pipes, which were made available because they are either cracked or flawed in some way, are ready to be dropped on the new reef site.

“They are perfect for this because they have a rough surface conducive to growth and they create great habitat because the fish swim in and out of them,” he said. “I’ll be able to work through the winter because the site is close to shore in the shelter of the land.”

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