SC subway reefs star of New York City historical display in Grand Central Station – Charleston Post Courier

Snapper and grouper fish off South Carolina ride the currents in subway cars. Literally. And now they are on exhibit in Grand Central Station in New York City.

Nearly 250 scrapped cars from the New York Transit Authority have been sunk onto five artificial reefs offshore of the Palmetto State where the former subway trains make a good enough habitat that several species are spawning in them.

An exhibit opened this spring in the New York Transit Museum in the city’s rail hub that tells the history of the reuse of the cars. Included are documentary photographs by industrial landscape artist Stephen Mallon and underwater shots by S.C. Department of Natural Resources artificial reef program coordinator Bob Martore.

The exhibit features a case study by Martore of the reefs of South Carolina.

A subway car now is part of the Redbird Reef off South Carolina. Photo by Robert Martore / South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.


After 15 years underwater, nine of every ten cars are still intact and upright in the water, providing fish and invertebrates with cave-like shelters, Matore told The Post and Courier.

“It’s somewhat surreal to think that photos of South Carolina artificial reefs are hanging in a museum in New York City for people from around the world to see,” he said. “I never really gave much thought to the artistic aspects of science.”

The cars “are filled with bottom dwelling residents — red and vermillion snapper, grouper, sea bass, spadefish,” he said. “Migratory pelagic species like amberjack and tuna circle around and above them, and cryptic species like spotted morays can be found hiding away where the seats used to be.”

The cars were barged to reef locations offshore. Photo by Stephen Mallon 

The South Carolina-sunk cars were among 2,500 cleaned cars dropped as artificial reefs from New Jersey to Georgia from 2001 to 2010. They added about 2 million cubic feet of new habitat off South Carolina alone, according to Martore.

The program saved the Transit Authority an estimated $30 million in disposal costs, according to the Transit Museum.

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