Myrtle Beach Shipwrecks
magine the Little Mermaid and her octopus friends playing their marimba music from atop New York City subway cars, or from the cockpit of a World War II aircraft, or on board a military transport vessel. You’ll only have to imagine the mermaid and octopi; that assortment of sunken vessels and vehicles in the waters of Myrtle Beach is very real.
South Carolina’s offshore artificial reefs program has submerged steel and concrete bridges, New York City subway cars, concrete culvert pipe, steel dry dock work platforms, military aircraft, US Army tanks and even intercontinental ballistic missiles. Since 1969 it very deliberately sank 100 steel-hulled vessels that were perhaps a bit beyond their prime. And the state’s Department of Natural Resources has funded these efforts through fees generated from the Saltwater Recreational Fishing License Program.
Some very sound reasoning is behind so many grand burials at sea. First and foremost, fish really enjoy a good shipwreck, and fishing and diving enthusiasts are never far behind them. With not enough ships sinking on their own to satisfy the appetites of the crowds they were attracting, DNR’s Office of Fisheries Management launched the Marine Artificial Reef Program.
It’s not just about the estimated $20 million the state receives in total economic benefit from the fishing and diving sector every year. The program also keeps huge structures out of the nation’s landfills and puts them to good use.
South Carolina leads the nation in artificial reef structure design, testing and utilization of reef structures. The state has moved on from the traditional steel and concrete scrap to heavy-duty plastic structures – more easily deployed, more cost-effective and more biologically efficient.
Fishing and diving sites near shore, inshore and offshore range from nine to 110 feet in depth, some of them up to 35 miles offshore. Sites can be relatively small, such as a single submerged ship – one that probably sank on its own with no government intervention – to one square mile of multiple reef structures. The state strategically selects locations so that they are accessible while at the same avoiding conflicts with other uses. In most cases they are marked by buoys.
Yellow nun buoys with four-foot masts and radar reflectors mark most offshore artificial reefs. They are placed near but not on the reefs to avoid entanglement. Of course your boat will be equipped with sonar so that you can locate underwater amusements using the buoys only as general reference.
Dropping anchor over a reef can be a tricky proposition. It’s easy to foul or lose your anchor, but then it’s also tough to hold your position over fish-infested waters while winds and tides work to carry you off. State law forbids you to tie to a buoy.
Hard rock café
Excitement runs high when you board an excursion boat to fish or dive. You’ve seen those Jacques Cousteau videos and you’re expecting maybe Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or the coral reefs of the Caribbean. You think you’ll go home with the legendary big one that will be mounted over the bar in your basement. Or you’ll shoot a video that will astound and amaze friends and family.
Those lofty goals are not completely beyond the bounds of possibility, but they will not likely play out exactly as they do on TV. Carolina waters are murky, visibility is sometimes limited, and coral reefs are not so prolific north of southern Florida. That’s because the Carolina coast has only a sparse scattering of what is known as hard bottom or live bottom areas.
In this area a hard bottom area typically means limestone making a courageous thrust through many layers of sand to create a rock outcropping to which aquatic invertebrates attach themselves. Most of the Carolina ocean floor consists of ten to 15 feet of sand layered on top of rock. Experts estimate that maybe about five to ten percent of the ocean floor in this region has the geological substrata to support the cavorting of aquatic life that you imagine dances and plays music among waving sea fans and stately coral castles.
So that’s where elderly ocean freighters, steel girders and subway cars come into play. For the length of their underwater life – an estimated 100 to 500 years – they’re as good as rock-based reefs. And there’s nothing artificial about the myriad of living organisms that take up residence in, on and around them.