for National Geographic News
Along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to Georgia, thousands of fish are crammed into subway carsbut they're going nowhere fast, and recreational fishers couldn't be happier.
The subway cars, along with armored tanks, naval ships, tugboats, and a large amount of concrete culverts, were strategically dumped in the ocean to serve as artificial reefs.
"In the mid-Atlantic region, we have very, very little exposed rock," said Jeff Tinsman, the artificial reef coordinator for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources in Dover (map of Delaware).
Hard surfaceswhether natural or human-madeare attractive to oysters, blue mussels, and food sources vital to local fish populations, including black sea bass.
But most of the ocean surface along the mid-Atlantic is featureless sand interspersed with mud splotches, so the artificial reefs are beacons for marine life.
"Oftentimes [artificial reefs] are hundreds of times richer in terms of biomass than the natural community at the bottom," Tinsman said. "This is very attractive to fish."
(Related story: "Noisy Reefs Preferred by Young Fish, Study Says" [April 7, 2005].)
State agencies turned to artificial reefs for help after they were pressed to boost local fish populations because of numerous razed oyster beds, Tinsman explains.
Divers to the artificial estuarine reefs often report seeing hundreds of juvenile black sea bass, an economically important fish, he adds.
Jennifer Samson, a marine scientist with Clean Ocean Action, a New Jersey-based advocacy organization, supports the Atlantic reef programs.
She says New Jersey's artificial reef program is "excellent" and "well supported by the fishing community" (map of New Jersey.)
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