Redbird Reef – Delaware - Atlas Obscura

Redbird Reef

Decommissioned NYC subway cars are dumped into the ocean to create this underwater wildlife habitat. 


Once a New York subway car is taken out of service it gets stripped, decontaminated, shipped down the coast and dropped into the ocean.

The underground transit cars then quickly become underwater homes to sea mollusks, sponges, barnacles, mussels…which, in turn, attract scores of bass, tautog, and other large game fish…which, in turn, attract thousands of fishermen.

The Redbird Reef is one such artificial reef that covers 1.3 square nautical miles of ocean floor, 16 miles off the Delaware coast and 80 feet down. The reef consists of 714 “Redbird” subway cars, 86 tanks, 8 tugboats and barges, as well as 3,000 tons of truck tires. Environmental groups have opposed the creation of the reef due to the level of asbestos found in the cars (even after being decontaminated), but in 2001 state and federal officials gave their okays and the reef was created. It quickly became the most popular ocean fishing spot off the Delaware coast - so popular that overcrowding, sabotage, and theft have become issues.

Regardless of the damage, the success of the artificial reef lead to other states rushing to get in line for the next batch of retired subway cars. To date, a total of 2,580 New York subway cars can be found on the Atlantic floor as part of various artificial reefs off the coasts of Delaware, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, and New Jersey.

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