Why Oysters are Shacking up in Old Subway Cars

States scrap over metal in a race to boast the greenest reef.

In 2001, New York City had over 1,000 outdated subway cars on its hands. When they were first introduced in 1959, the old Redbird trains were gorgeous machines, but after four decades of service, it was time for the battered cars to be permanently retired. But rather than take them to a slag heap to be salvaged for scrap or crushed into little metal cubes, the city took 619 of the cars, stripped them of their windows and oily undercarriages, steam cleaned them, and then hauled the 20,000 pound metal boxes down to Delaware on a freighter ship. Then they dumped them all into the sea.

This wasn’t some fit of insanity or outburst of ecocidal rage. Quite the opposite, actually—dumping the city’s old subway cars into the water was just the first step in an effort to create new, artificial reefs off the eastern seaboard. By the dawn of the 21st century, most of the coastline of the mid-Atlantic states was a lifeless underwater desert. It lacked the nooks, crannies, and flat, porous surfaces in which oysters, blue mussels, and local fish, like the black sea bass, make their homes. Subway cars formed the groundwork to restore that habitat and revitalize local shoreline ecosystems. By 2003, New York had dumped over 1,250 cars off the coasts of Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Virginia. They were mutually beneficial arrangements; by offering to haul and dump the trains to the recipient states for free, New York was able to avoid the high cost of dumping the mass of scrap metal. In 2007, the incredible successes of the first reef project led to a national scramble, as states vied for the next 1,000 or so retiring cars to be sent their way.

New York’s subway cars aren’t the world’s first artificial reefs: As early as the 1600s, Japanese seaside communities used rubble and construction materials to create little kelp sanctuaries, and by the 1830s, South Carolinians were using reefs made of old logs to bolster fishing yields. Nowadays, you’ll find artificial reefs playing a big role in the shore ecosystems of cities like Aqaba, Jordan, Cancun, Mexico, and Wellington, New Zealand. Florida is especially fond of sinking decommissioned ships to form new reefs. (They once tried to use two million loose tires instead, but paid the price when many drifted away in the currents, thus becoming pollutants).

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

Since 1995, Delaware has been leading the charge to build artificial reefs in America. A year before the Redbird cars arrived, Delaware had already dropped tons of concrete, thousands of weighted tires, 86 military vehicles, and two sunken ships off their coast at 14 artificial reef sites. Other states, initially fearing that subway cars and similar human detritus could prove toxic to the environment in some unexpected way, stood watching the experiment cautiously— but Delaware’s gung-ho enthusiasm paid off, and by 2003 their once barren waters had developed a fish overcrowding problem.

For many in New York, the highlight of the subway reefs are their potential to revive oyster populations—a goal many environmental and civic groups in the area share. Until the dawn of the 20th century, New York was a hotbed of quality oyster fishing, but as oyster populations declined, so did their bacteria-and-toxin-eating benefits, and pollution slowly ravaged the city’s coastlines.

Over the past few years, groups like the New York Harbor Foundation’s Billion Oyster Project have sprung up all over New York, creating mini-habitats for oysters as a means to clean up the waterways and restore them to habitable, usable environments. As of 2013, one organization alone, NY/NJ Baykeeper, boasted about 45 operational oyster bed sites. Landscape architect Kate Orff has begun designing visions of a revived waterfront, integrated into modern city life. The idea of harmonious integration, which might’ve seemed hopeless at one point—cities are often painted as direct adversaries of nature—now suddenly doesn’t seem so farfetched. As oyster revivals kick off over hundreds of miles of coastline, there’s growing promise in the belief that cities can indeed play positive roles in repairing the environment.

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet