Shipwrecked Coal Ship Is Now Home to a Floating Forest

CC BY 2.0. mezuni

Over the century after it was first launched, the British-built steamship, the SS Ayrfield, hosted a variety of different sailors and cargo. During World War II, it was used by the Australian government to transport food and supplies to soldiers in the Pacific theatre, and afterwards, sold to a shipping company to transport coal.

But although the vessel was wrecked and decommissioned in the early 1970s, left to rust in Sydney's Homebush Bay, it has since been slowly commandeered by a new type of crew: a floating forest of lush mangroves.

floating forest in sydney

© Rodney CampbellAs imposing as it must have seemed when rolling off the shipyard line in 1911, a steel-hulled testament to human ingenuity, after decades of service the SS Ayrfield, like many of our formerly-prized possessions, became mired in obsolescence. Though in the years that followed, that wrecked old coal ship has come to represent something else entirely -- the ease with which nature can reclaim even the stateliest symbols of our civilization.

Nowadays, what was once an eyesore has become a favorite spot among photographers, its contrast of the shipwreck's rust and lush vegetation against the city skyline acting as an easy allegory for degradation and renewal.

floating forest front photo

© Rodney Campbell

While it can often be disheartening to consider how fleeting our creations actually are in the long stream of time, it is also reassuring to know that once we leave the helm, it won't remain lifeless long. Indeed, perhaps a similar fate to the SS Ayrfield awaits many other vessels at sea today and even some not yet built -- carrying our cargo for just a short while before the roots of a forest or a coral reef take over for the long shift.