Dumping an old bridge in the ocean is probably not something most New Yorkers would describe as improving our precious marine environment. Well, we need to expand our imaginations.
State officials are revving up efforts to create artificial reefs off the coast of New York City and Long Island by sinking parts of the old Tappan Zee Bridge. Old tugboats and barges, steel pipes, jetty rock and pieces of concrete are going to be scuttled, too.
These underwater junkyards actually make great habitats for fish, and the transformation is fast. Within days of the material settling on the mostly sandy bottoms of the region, fish that like hiding places — black sea bass, blackfish, lobster — arrive. Then algae grow, and anemones and barnacles and mussels attach themselves and become food for other fish. Within a year, you have a thriving community that’s a piscatorial magnet for recreational fishers. And divers love exploring the ghostly metal skeletons and structures.
The first phase of the project will build up six reefs, five off Long Island’s coast and a 413-acre reef south of Rockaway Beach, over the next few months. Another six sites will be expanded later. All material is cleaned and decontaminated to federal standards. Current components of the reefs range from the steel buoys, concrete slabs, decking and rubble that make up the Rockaway reef to the auto bodies, Good Humor trucks and barges that comprise the Atlantic Beach reef just to the east.
The tactic has a track record. Dozens of old Army tanks were dumped to form reefs off New Jersey’s coast in the 1990s. A decommissioned aircraft carrier was sunk off Florida’s Gulf Coast in 2006. One of the most ambitious projects involved scuttling more than 2,500 NYC subway cars to create reefs along the length of the Atlantic Seaboard from Delaware to Georgia.
And the repurposing of the old Tappan Zee — many of its concrete decks were sold for $1 each to counties and other entities to construct or fix other bridges and roads — is a strong rejection of our throwaway culture.