The Second Life of a Sunken Ship
UNESCO estimates there are over three million shipwrecks in the world’s oceans. So what happens to all those shipwrecks? A recent deep-sea dive, the first in 14 years, shows how the wreckage of the Titanic is now rapidly disintegrating thanks to metal-eating bacteria, salt corrosion, and shifting ocean currents. But even if the Titanic disappears, as it’s predicted to do by 2030, it’s had a much longer—and more productive—second life underwater.
Wreck or Artificial Reef?
While many associate shipwrecks like the Titanic with catastrophe or perhaps sunken treasure, the reality is that shipwrecks often serve as new habitats or artificial reefs for algae, coral, fish, and other sea life. Whether you see a shipwreck or an artificial reef is all about how you perceive things.
How Does an Artificial Reef Grow?
The first stage of an artificial reef begins with a surge of plankton, those generally microscopic organisms like bacteria and algae, floating on the ocean current. The plankton then attracts small fish like sardines and minnows who in turn attract larger fish like tuna and sharks. Creatures seeking shelter in holes and crevices like snapper, eels, and grouper come, attracting predatory fish like barracudas. Over time, the shipwreck becomes encrusted with living organisms like algae, coral, barnacles, and sponges as well as rusticles, formations of oxidized iron similar to icicles.
See A Shipwreck for Yourself
First, you’ll have to get your wreck diver’s certification, but once you do, you’ll be able to make like Jacques Cousteau and explore a shipwreck/artificial reef on your own. You can swim through rooms on all five levels of the U.S.S. Kittiwake near the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean or see the world’s largest wreck, the S.S. President Coolidge, off the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu in the South Pacific (complete with World War II weapons and remnants of the ship’s pre-war past as a luxury liner). For something closer to home, check out the Shipwreck Trail in the Florida Keys. You’ll explore ships as old as the San Pedro, a 1733 Spanish treasure fleet sunk by a hurricane, or the remains of the oldest active U.S. military vessel, The Duane.