It took only two minutes for the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg to fall to the bottom of the ocean floor off the Florida Keys, even though demolition crews estimated it would take 20. Why intentionally bomb a boat? The answer is simple: Fish can’t resist sunken ships.
Fishermen have always known that shipwrecks are prime fishing spots since as early as the 1800s. Fish seek shelter in these structures, and ships have not been their only homes.
Old, rusty tanks, train cars and even mobile homes have been pushed into the ocean to attract fish of all species. Amateur fishermen even have attempted to dump old refrigerators, cars and any other home appliance that could serve as a dwelling place for sea creatures.
Artificial reefs have helped some species of fish flourish. The abundance of Red Snapper fish off the Gulf of Mexico had dramatically diminished last year. A study by the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture at Mississippi State University showed that the use of artificial reefs could aid in the replenishment of the Red Snapper by providing refuge for younger species and a place for foraging.
Although rusted metal is a material that encourages the growth of beautifully colored coral, artificial reefs are a double-edged sword, and the fact remains that this disposal is technically pollution.
During the deployment process, the ship releases gases, oils and other debris that lingers after the explosion is harmful to the ocean’s ecosystems. Some heavier metal objects contain toxic materials that may slowly creep into the water, causing damage to the surrounding school of fish.
Stability is also an important factor that plays a role in the creation of these artificial reefs. If a structure is not heavy enough, for example, a strong storm can carry it away from its intended location, resulting in more harm done than good.
The Artificial Reef Program developed in 2003 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife aims to accomplish numerous goals: assuring that long-term projects benefit the local and regional economies of Florida, utilizing artificial reefs in scientific research and fostering an accurate understanding of artificial reef issues.
Over the last few decades, Florida has distributed more than $20,232,718 toward artificial reef related activities, according to the FWC. The creation of more artificial reefs is destructive to marine wildlife and selfish on the part of the state’s economists.
Not only are artificial reefs existent in oceans, but they are also used in our very own backyard — Lake Champlain. Various vessels have sunk to their demise during the past few centuries, including a number of War of 1812 ships: Allen, Eagle, Linnet and Ticonderoga.
The O.J. Walker also sunk after a wind storm caused the ship to leak in 1895, and its wheel has collected much coral growth over the years.
There’s a difference between all of these 300 or so structures and those used in Florida and other areas around the world: These Champlain reefs are all composed of materials like wood, rather than metals that have a potential to harm ecosystems.
These wrecks have been mapped out by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Not only are these sites hotspots for fishermen, they are also breathtaking sites that can be explored on shipwreck tours run by the Burlington museum.
Though artificial coral reefs can be astonishingly beautiful, we must acknowledge their potential to harm marine life. The way structures are just being dumped into the ocean by places like Florida is not conducive to the swarms of fish that flock to them, only to be caught for economical reasons.
There needs to be better methods for disposing old ships other than blowing them up in the ocean. It’s understandable that fisheries use this method to boost their company.
However, whatever happened to patiently waiting for a fish to bite the hook? Learn a lesson from “The Old Man and the Sea” instead of harming the world in which we live. The world is extremely fragile. Think before you go and toss an old tire or fridge in the water.
Email Chris Burek at firstname.lastname@example.org.