Dozens of Army tanks, NYC subway cars among hidden gems off Grand Strand coast

An Army personnel carrier used as part of an artificial reef -
An Army personnel carrier used as part of an artificial reef -

If you go diving off South Carolina’s coast, you might be surprised to see dozens of U.S. Army tanks, New York City subway cars and other interesting finds.

The random objects are part of the artificial reefs the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has been constructing for over 40 years.

Marine artificial reefs are made throughout the state to help improve fish populations and to enhance saltwater fishing opportunities. SCDNR sinks everything from ships to bridge spans and even boats on artificial reef sites all along the coast, according to the agency.

subway car.JPG
New York City Transit subway cars - Courtesy SCDNR

“The environmental benefits of artificial reefs are twofold, as they recycle materials that would otherwise be destined for landfills in addition to expanding critical habitat for offshore fish,” an SCDNR guide states. “Structures intended for artificial reefs undergo a long and rigorous cleaning process to ensure they’re safe to sink.”

In addition to subway cars and armored personnel carriers, there are several shipwrecks, an A-7 military airplane and a 160-foot British Petroleum ship that lie on the ocean floor.

One of those shipwrecks, The Sherman, is located about six miles from the inlet of Little River. It was a 200-foot-long Civil War blockade-runner that survived the war before it sunk in 1874, USA TODAY reports. The wreckage lies about 55 feet below the surface.

The Jim Caudle Reef, also in Little River, is composed of 13 Army tanks, hundreds of concrete cones and other materials. The Little River Offshore Reef has 19 Army tanks, 50-foot and 95-foot tugboats, two landing craft and barges.

Artificial reef locations in South Carolina - Graphic by SCDNR

You can find 44 retired subway cars at the Bill Perry Jr. Reef near Murrells Inlet. More subway cars are located nearby at the BP-25 Reef and other reefs near Charleston, Beaufort and Georgetown.

“When durable materials such as these are placed in the marine environment their surfaces are rapidly colonized, and eventually completely covered, by a wide variety of sessile organisms including algae, barnacles, corals, sponges, hydroids, bryozoans and marine worms,” the guide says. “These organisms become the foundation of the reef community and the base of the food web which is critical to later fishing success.”

SCDNR works with the S.C. Army National Guard to help sink large equipment like the armored personnel carriers, ships and shipping containers where the artificial reef sites are located along the coast. Sport fishing and diving clubs, conservation organizations and other agencies help donate materials and construct the reefs as well.

Michaela Broyles: 843-626-0281, @MichaelaBroyles