By Hannah E. Jones
Soon, two MARTA rail cars will sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
MARTA is currently in the process of replacing its fleet with new rail cars. Wanting to put the old materials to good use, the transit agency will be donating some of the original feet to help with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Artificial Reef program. In early September, the first two cars were towed to the coast of Savannah.
Stretching about 80 miles off Georgia’s coast is a shallow, sandy continental shelf that isn’t hospitable for reef communities. To help reef populations thrive, Georgia DNR has constructed 32 artificial sites that sit two-and-a-half to 70 miles offshore.
“Reefing is the most affordable and environmentally responsible way to reuse retired rail cars, and we hope to provide more rail cars in the future as we make room for the new trains,” MARTA Director of Sustainability Richard Thomas said in a statement.
In the first week of October, the two MARTA cars will be deployed to Artificial Reef L, an already-established reef that covers about two square miles approximately 23 nautical miles east of Ossabaw Island. Created in 1976, Artificial Reef L is made up of several decommissioned vehicles, including U.S. Army battle tanks, barges, tugboats and New York City subway cars. The 55,000-pound MARTA cars will be taken out to sea on a barge, pushed overboard and, once the sand settles, scuba divers will explore the site to ensure everything is in the right place.
“There’s only about three-and-a-half percent of the Georgia coast that’s capable of being what we call a ‘live bottom,’” Georgia DNR Public Information Officer Tyler Jones said in an interview, referring to a sea floor with lots of activity compared to sand or rock. “So we take materials like this and place them on the ocean floor. Even though the materials are man-made, the stuff that’s going to grow on it is totally natural and it provides a habitat for fish. Anything that’s structured like this underwater, fish are attracted to it.”
Before being shipped off, the rail cars were stripped down to shells and removed of all hazardous materials. Organisms will begin to grow almost immediately and, over time, the habitat will become increasingly complex and vibrant.
If you’re interested in learning more about each of Georgia’s artificial reefs and the materials they house, click here.