Fish and other aquatic species off Delaware's coast now have a couple of sunken hulls to call home – that was the intent when two old vessels were sunk in the summer of 2007 on Delaware’s Redbird Reef. The steel-hulled ships' presence on the ocean floor will bolster Delaware’s artificial reef by enhancing fisheries habitat, increasing marine biodiversity and productivity, and providing fishing and diving opportunities for decades to come.
The Redbird Reef, 16 miles east of the Indian River Inlet, is Delaware's most visited reef site, supporting over 10,000 angler trips annually.
The reef, which consists of concrete structure, decommissioned military vehicles, old subway cars and earlier sunken vessels, offers excellent fishing for black sea bass, summer flounder, and tautog, as well as other game fish. Monitoring studies have shown that placement of durable, stable reef materials can result in a 400-fold increase in the amount of plankton and small baitfish available near the reef as food for larger fish. Gamefish are attracted to baitfish, which congregate around the reef structure. (Photo by Gary Cooke)
"These two vessels had a long and productive service on the water,” said Jeff Tinsman, reef project manager with DNREC’s Fisheries Section. “With their deployment on Delaware’s Redbird Reef, they will continue their service by enhancing the reef and improving our coastal ecosystem.”
Reef construction is especially important in the Mid-Atlantic region, where the shore bottom is usually featureless sand or mud. Recycled materials, including concrete pipe and other concrete products, ballasted tire units, subway cars, and decommissioned military vehicles and vessels have been sunk off the Delaware coast. The reef program uses differential global positioning system (DGPS) to accurately place materials on the existing artificial reef.
One of the sunken vessels, the 92-year-old tugboat Margaret, was built by Staten Island Shipbuilding Co. for the Erie Railroad. Originally powered by a double-compound steam engine, the vessel is 97 feet long and 24 wide, weighed 171 gross tons. The Margaret was sunk in memory of Edward Hahn of Centreville, Md., an avid fisherman, and his family and friends funded preparation of the vessel for sinking off the Delaware coast.
The second vessel, the Navy tanker YOG-93, was built by RTC Shipbuilding of Camden, N.J. in 1945 as a coastal gasoline tanker for use in the planned invasion of Japan. The ship is 180 feet long by 33 wide with a displacement of 1,390 tons. The single-screw, diesel tanker was most recently used by Navy Seals in tactics training and boarding party training.
Both vessels were cleaned by Dominion Marine Group in Norfolk, Va., to remove all greases and buoyant materials that might be harmful to the marine environment. The U.S. Coast Guard inspected and approved both vessels prior to transport to the reef site. Both were prepared for sinking by having holes cut holes above the waterline and soft patches put in the holes. After they arrived and anchored over the reef site, soft patches were removed and pumps were used to initiate flooding of the interior spaces. Water poured into the cut holes and accelerated the sinking process.
The Redbird reef site was begun in 1996, taking its name from the "Redbird" paint-schemed subway cars donated in 2001 by New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. To build the Redbird Reef, 619 of the obsolete subway cars were sunk, each of them 51 feet long by nine wide, making a substantial bottom structure for an artificial reef.
Delaware now has 14 permitted artificial reef sites in the Delaware Bay and coastal waters, with five of the sites located in federal (ocean) waters. Delaware’s artificial reef program is administered by the the Division of Fish and Wildlife's Fisheries Section with primary funding provided through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For more information, contact Jeff Tinsman, environmental scientist, at (302) 739-4782.