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Fake Reefs

Wondering what to do with all of your old military vessels? Look no further than the Environmental Protection Agency's vessel-to-reef program. Under the supervision of the EPA, expert divers and environmental teams scuttle crusty old ships to create new habitats for Nemo and his pals. (Scuttling is the official word for vessels that are sunk on purpose). The EPA even has a Best Management Practices document, which outlines how to clean the ships, remove harmful materials and prepare them for their salty retirement.  

So, where do they drop the wrecks? Well, America isn’t the only country that sinks unwanted vessels. Soggy ships are peppered all over the world’s oceans for conservation and recreational purposes. Yes, we said recreational. From Florida to Kenya to New Zealand, you can swim through these wrecks like you’re Bill Paxton in Titanic.

Ships aren't the only objects to be purposely plunged into the ocean. Armored tanks have been used to create sustainable habitats off the Gulf of Thailand. And numerous subway cars were plopped off the coast of New Jersey and Delaware to form artificial reefs.

Scuttling doesn't always go to plan. The Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot cargo ship for the Navy, went belly-up six hours before the official scuttling was scheduled to take place. Dive teams were able to finish the job and sink the ship, but it landed on its side - not ideal for a newbie reef. However, in an incredible turn of events, a passing hurricane pushed the vessel upright. (While we're on the subject, a scuttled Libyan oil tanker called the Um El Faroudwas dramatically ripped in two by a storm as it lay on the sea floor. Never underestimate the power of wind + water).

Similar to natural reefs, many of these artificial habitats are off limits to sticky fingers - i.e. no touching. This is true of the Kittiewake, which was scuttled in 2011 in the Cayman Islands. The ship served from 1945 to 1994 and helped recover the Challenger Space Shuttle. While you can't touch it, you can marvel at its beauty as you swim by (wearing a mask).

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Image by AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman


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