A New Kind of Home Under the Sea

August 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

As natural habitats of our world disappear at an ever more constant rate, artificial ones are coming in to replace them, and not always in the conventional manner expected.

“Fish are friends, not food.” Does that line sound familiar to you? Perhaps it reminds you of
Pixar’s hugely popular hit, Finding Nemo. Bruce and his fish-friendly shark-friends are likeable (although apparently bi-polar) characters that Marvin and Dory encounter on their quest to find Nemo. There’s a reason why I’m bringing this up, believe it or not, and it actually is relevant to a more grown-up topic: namely artificial habitats on the ocean floor.

Not getting it? Try to remember where the scene takes place–Marvin and Dory encounter the sharks on a sunken navy vessel. The chase scene that ensues leads to bombs being detonated as the small fish swim frantically away. But that boat is actually not a rarity in the ocean world, and more of them are being placed on the ocean floor not by accident, but on purpose.

It turns out that as coral reef and other marine habitats become endangered or overpopulated, we have had the idea to place old ships, tanks and even subway cars at the bottom of the ocean floor to create a new living place for many a fish. Just recently, it was announced that a new US navy vessel, the USS Radford, will be released off the coast of Delaware.

Initially, it sounded like a bad idea to me. First off, that scene in Finding Nemodoes little to glorify the presence of the boat–it’s rather an eye-sore and a creepy thing to have lying about at the bottom of our ocean. But apparently, thanks to some wonderful pictures provided by National Geographic, these ships and other sea-floor decorations can become quite magical once comfortably adorned with sea life.

Is it good, though, for the ecosystem? The first answer is yes, for several reasons. First off, it provides many fish with a new habitat, especially when old ones are eroded or destroyed by climate change and human intrusion.

Photo Credit: National Geographic — http://gallery.pictopia.com/natgeo/photo/9363039/

Secondly, these objects are a big attraction for tourists and fishermen alike–since fish like to hang out in these places, it’s a popular place for people to come watch them, or to come catch them.

However it can also be considered  bad in several ways as well. First of all, it dirties the natural habitat. What right do we have to place those ugly tanks out of our sight and boldly in the homes of many deep-sea creatures? Secondly, what about residue from the ships, or chemicals that could leak into the water, affecting not only the surrounding water but contaminating the fish as well and eventually us? Yet another concern is that it de-centralizes certain fish populations, taking them away from a natural reef that they would otherwise have occupied.

For this reason, the placement of these big objects is not without controversy, although for the most part, provided regulations are closely adhered to, it goes unstopped. The US government has created it’s own agency to deal with such sinkings, and the EPA has to approve all boats or vessels before they are placed in the ocean.

Other, weirder alternatives are also open in terms of creating an artificial reef or fish habitat. For example, the company “Eternal Reefs” has created a graveyard on the ocean floor, where people can have themselves cremated and then buried, with a stone and other decorations, down below. So far, more than 300 people have already bought into this deal! Just like the boats or tanks, the graves eventually become home to many sea creatures and plants, evolving into a beautiful, if not slightly bizarre, sight.

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