visual ecology
10/17/10
Built Nature: Reclamation Project

Photographs by Stephen Mallon


The Front Room Gallery, press release for Next Stop Atlantic, photographs by Stephen Mallon:
“…Mallon presents a stunning series of photographs, which capture the retirement of hundreds of New York City Subway cars to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean…the NYC Transit authority joined the artificial reef building program off the East Coast of the US in 2000 and sent stripped and decontaminated subway cars off on barges to be dropped into the Ocean in order to build refuge for many species of fish and crustaceans which would colonize the structures…Mallon traces the progress of the train cars on their way towards their last voyage, majestic waves approach the viewer in these large scale photographs as they too are transported out to sea to behold the lifting and transfer of these massive machines…”


MTA website, on NYC Transit and the Environment:
“Artificial Reef Project—Disposing of obsolete subway cars in the ocean to create habitats for marine life and recreational fishing exemplifies a creative solution by Asset Recovery to sensitive disposal issues. NYC Transit has provided more than 2,500 retired subway cars to Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. NYC Transit steam cleaned the subway cars after stripping them of components that float (oils, solids, etc.) and decompose. Then the cars were loaded on barges and “buried” at sea…”


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, monthly report on the New York State Artificial Reef Program Update, June, 2008:
“…Past placements of these cars in the Middle Atlantic have proven successful at attracting game fishes and other aquatic life. As a consequence, a competition of sorts has begun among New York, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia for acquiring cars as they are taken out of service. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns and operates New York’s subway system, reportedly will cease providing cars to states other than New York once the local permit is updated since New York has requested all of the cars that will be available, and the shorter transportation costs of delivering the cars to their watery destination would save perhaps $2M. The various Middle Atlantic artificial reef programs attract large numbers of users, and are economically attractive to communities within reasonable reach for day trips…Nonetheless, interest in this concept is keen. A recent episode of CSI New York (“The Deep”) featured a crime scene off Manhattan where Mac Taylor’s (Gary Sinese) staff collected evidence off a fictitious subway car reef site near Governor’s Island…”


Scientific American, August, 2001:
“…If only the car bodies went into the ocean and the trucks were recycled as scrap metal–which is what the MTA proposes–19 to 23 million pounds of that metal would find a new home on the ocean floor. In the process, the transit authority would save an estimated $11 million to $13 million in disposal cost, Zacchea says. “Clearly the number of cars raised some eyebrows, particularly because New York was going to save so much money by dumping them into the ocean,” says Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, an environmental advocacy group based in New Jersey. “That sort of sends up a red flag that there’s a little bit of a disposal factor here…”


New York Times, September, 2007:
“…New Jersey will ask New York for 600 decommissioned subway cars to be sunk off the coast to create artificial reefs to attract fish, lobsters and other marine life, New Jersey environmental officials said yesterday. New Jersey, which has the East Coast’s largest artificial reef complex, stopped accepting subway cars in 2003 after environmentalists raised concerns that the cars might leach high levels of asbestos as they disintegrated. But New Jersey’s environmental protection commissioner, Lisa P. Jackson, wrote in a staff memo yesterday that studies conducted by federal agencies and by other states that have sunk subway cars satisfied her that asbestos did not pose a serious threat. Cindy Zipf, the executive director of Clean Ocean Action, a critic of the subway plan, said yesterday that she hoped New Jersey officials would ask for the subway cars with the least amount of asbestos…”


pressofAtlanticCity.com, July, 2009:
“…The state has terminated a program to place stainless steel subway cars from New York City on artificial reefs off New Jersey’s coast. The program originally was expected to include as many as 600 of the 35,000-pound subway cars, but only about 100 were placed on two of the state’s 15 offshore reefs before problems arose. The program was suspended in February when the first cars, placed on the Atlantic City Reef 8.8 nautical miles off Absecon Inlet, showed unusual damage after only seven months in the water. “Out of 48, 46 were destroyed,” Yuhas said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had estimated they would serve as good reef habitat for 25 to 30 years. Other East Coast states that took the subway cars have reported similar problems. It remains unclear why the cars deteriorated so rapidly, but Yuhas stressed that they pose no threat and still provide “some level of habitat,” though not the quality of habitat that meets state standards. The stainless steel subway cars were expected to be the major addition this summer to the reefs, which are strongly supported by recreational fishermen and scuba divers. The plan was to deploy 160 cars each to Shark River, Garden State South and Deepwater. Losing them does not mean the DEP is doing nothing. Plans still call for sinking a surf clam boat, 500,000 cubic yards of rocks and 500 prefabricated reef balls…”


techtreak.com, On Delaware, A Dumping Point for New York Subway Cars:
“…Well, the trend of creating artificial reef is growing in the US, with more states catching on to the trend. But the only problem is that there are only a limited number of retired New York Sub way cars available. Under this situation, the states are experimenting with other available things like abandoned automobiles, refrigerators and washing machines for creating artificial reefs…”


BBC News, June, 2007:
“…Japan has launched an innovative project to try to protect an exclusive economic zone off its coast. Officials are planting coral to increase the land mass of rocky outcrops in Japan’s waters. Six colonies of coral have been planted around Okinotorishima, some 1,700km (1,060 miles) south of Tokyo. China recognises the outcrop as Japan’s territory, but says Tokyo cannot claim rights to the surrounding waters as it does not qualify as an island…They look like two concrete roundabouts, sitting in the middle of the sea off the southern coast of Japan. Their combined land mass is just 10 sq m (12 square yards). But these rocky outcrops are important. According to the Law of the Sea, Japan can lay exclusive claim to the natural resources 370km (230 miles) from its shores. So, if these outcrops are Japanese islands, the exclusive economic zone stretches far further from the coast of the main islands of Japan then it would do otherwise. To bolster Tokyo’s claim, officials have posted a large metal address plaque on one of them making clear they are Japanese. They have also built a lighthouse nearby…”