10 of the World's Most Spectacular Artificial Reefs

Large group of underwater statues
Photo: Andy Blackledge [CC by SA-2.0]/Wikimedia Commons

Artificial reefs are man-made underwater structures typically built to provide a stable habitat for marine life, but they can also provide some of the world's top diving destinations. Because they are often made from things like scuttling old ships and other defunct structures (such as tanks or subway cars), they supply divers with an opportunity to swim with marine life and a majestic view of sunken history. Some artificial reefs are otherworldly structures built by artists, such as the one seen here: Jason deCaires Taylor's "The Silent Evolution." Swimming in these places can transport you to another world eerily like our own, but one seemingly frozen in time beneath the sea.

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Redbird Reef


Redbird Reef is a highly successful (in terms of wildlife colonization) artificial reef located off the Delaware coast. Consisting mostly of decommissioned New York City subway cars, it covers 1.3 square miles of ocean floor. Aside from the 714 subway cars, it is also made up of 86 retired tanks and armored personnel carriers, eight tugboats and barges and 3,000 tons of ballasted truck tires.

Marine life in the area boomed by some 400 times in the seven years following the reef's creation, and is a bountiful fishing location.

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The Tank


This popular diving site, straightforwardly called "The Tank," is located off the coast of Jordan in Aqaba Marine Park. The American M42 Duster was sunk in 1999 by the Jordanian Royal Ecological Diving Society to create the artificial reef.

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USS Oriskany

U.S. Navy/Wiki Commons.

The USS Oriskany is an Essex-class aircraft carrier that was sunk in 2006 to make an artificial reef off the Florida coast. To date, it is the largest vessel ever sunk to make a reef.

The sinking was carefully reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that all toxic substances on the ship were properly removed.

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Neptune Memorial Reef

Todd Murray/flickr.

This spectacular reef located off the coast of Key Biscayne, Fla., was originally designed as an artistic interpretation of the fabled lost city of Atlantis. It also serves as an undersea mausoleum of sorts, where patrons can have their ashes buried at sea.

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The Silent Evolution

Jason deCaires Taylor/Wiki Commons.

Few artificial reefs are as awe-inspiring as Jason deCaires Taylor's "The Silent Evolution". The exhibit is a collection of 400 underwater sculptures, mostly depicting people seemingly frozen in time on the ocean floor. The artist hopes that the sculptures provide divers and snorkelers with an awareness of the plight of coral and other fragile ocean life. It is easily accessible to snorkelers in the National Marine Park of Isla Mujeres, Cancun and Punta Nizuc, in Mexico.

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Jason deCaires Taylor/Wiki Commons.

"Inertia" is another of several undersea art installations by artist Jason deCaires Taylor, a poignant piece that "explore(s) the significant impact humans have had on our planet’s ecosystems and the subsequent effect to future generations.” Its depiction of an overweight couch potato with a half-eaten hamburger and fries on his lap illustrates the cultural apathy that engenders environmental deterioration.

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Osborne Reef

U.S. Navy/Wiki Commons.

This artificial reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a glaring example of how artificial reefs are not always a good idea. They must be carefully planned and should not be an excuse to use our marine ecosystems as junkyards.

Constructed of millions of discarded tires, the reef failed after the tires became loosened and began colliding with nearby natural coral reefs, destroying them in the process. The project has come to be referred to as an environmental disaster. A large-scale clean-up is still being conducted by the U.S. military.

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USNS Hoyt S. Vandenberg

Matthew Hoelscher/flickr.

The second largest artificial reef in the world built from a sunken ship is the USNS Hoyt S. Vandenberg, scuttled in 2009 off Key West, Fla. The site grants divers an unprecedented look at the remains of a World War II-era troop transport ship, as well as offering marine life a bastion on the sea floor.

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Reef balls

Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock.

Many of the world's most spectacular artificial reefs are built from reef ball technology, deployed thanks to the Reef Ball Foundation. More than half a million reef balls have been placed on the ocean floor in more than 4,000 projects around the world.

The balls are specially designed to both protect natural reefs as well as provide habitat for new coral outcrops. Their design also provides fish protective alcoves, much as a natural reef would, and no toxic chemicals are used in their construction.

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Chicken cage barge

Savannah Morning News/YouTube.

Proving that just about any trash can be transformed into treasure in the form of an artificial reef, a barge laden with chicken cages was recently sunk off the coast of Georgia.

The 254-foot-long structure should provide an ideal habitat for fish and encrusting organisms.