Old rail cars sit on a barge before being dumped into the ocean off the New York coast. The debris will create an artificial reef that will attract marine life. (Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo via AP)

Old rail cars sit on a barge before being dumped into the ocean off the New York coast. The debris will create an artificial reef that will attract marine life. (Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo via AP)

A rail car is tipped into the water. Each car was cleaned up before it was dumped. (AP)

A rail car is tipped into the water. Each car was cleaned up before it was dumped. (AP)

A rail car splashes into the ocean. (AP)

A rail car splashes into the ocean. (AP)

A Gray angelfish watches a scuba diver. Huge boulders were dropped on the ocean floor to create an artificial reef near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (AP)

A Gray angelfish watches a scuba diver. Huge boulders were dropped on the ocean floor to create an artificial reef near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (AP)

These old New York subway cars were dumped to create artificial fishing reefs off the New Jersey coast around 2009. (AP)

These old New York subway cars were dumped to create artificial fishing reefs off the New Jersey coast around 2009. (AP)

End of the Line

Posted: January 1, 2021

SPLASH!

Near New York City, people dump old rail cars into the Atlantic Ocean.

What? That sounds like mega-littering!

Actually, the train dumpers are trying to restore the world, not make it dirtier. They’re attempting to build artificial reefs that attract fish and divers.

The 75 donated steel rail cars once carried lumber. Each weighs as much as 21 tons. The cars drop into the sea off Long Island’s Jones beach and sink into the nearby Hempstead Reef. It takes about two hours for the cars to settle into the sediment on the sea bottom. Other cars will go to New York’s other 11 artificial reefs.

Did you know people have been dumping junk—rail cars, tug boats, and old bridge parts—to make reefs for decades? From 2001 to 2010, around 2,500 train cars found a new home on the U.S. East Coast ocean floor. Once, New Yorkers rode in these cars on the subway. Now fish cozy up in them and call them home.

And in reality, people have been making artificial reefs for much longer—maybe since the 1830s. They probably got the idea from watching sunken ships. They likely noticed that old shipwrecks made great fishing spots because sea life gathered on or in them. Since then, people have constructed reefs from rubble, concrete, tanks, refrigerators, cars, and tires.

After these train cars sink, people watch for creatures to move in to the new neighborhood. That process usually doesn’t take long. Algae arrives first. Next, tautogs, porgy fish, anemones, sponges, and mussels show up with their U-Hauls. (Just kidding . . . sea creatures don’t have possessions to move. And they can’t drive.) Lobsters and crabs make themselves at home. Eventually—once the “reef” is stocked with plenty of prey— dolphins and sharks join the new marine community.