In addition to causing extensive damage, Hurricane Sandy demonstrated just how woefully prepared people in New York for major storm surges. When the water began rising back in October, due to intense rainfall and wind, there was little in the way to stop it or break in the incoming flow. As such, plans are now being considered for creating a buffer zone to protect the city from future storms.
Mitch Joachim, the co-founder of Terreform ONE, has a rather novel suggestion for how this could be done. Basically, he wants to submerge old Navy ships in the New York Harbor, creating a “riparian buffer zone” that could better handle large volumes of water. This is just one of many projects his company is involved in, which include improving transportation links in Red Hook and Governor’s Island, and ecologically engineering Brooklyn’s Navy Yard.
According to Joachim, their firm hit on the idea of using ship hulls to create a walkway that rises up from the harbor floor. In addition to providing protection for New Yorkers, he claims it would be cosmetically pleasing as well:
We thought one way to make gabions really quick is to take hulls from ghost fleets, cut them into sections, and then puzzle-fit the geometry together. It allows over time the transformation of that landscape. Over years of sediment building up, you would have environments that privilege humans at certain points of the day. But then as tide changes occur, you would have aqueous environments that privilege other life besides humans.
Basically, the walkway would help keep rising tides back in the near future, and would serve as a natural habitat once the tides rise and move in to claim them. By cutting the hulls into clam-like shapes, the organization says that New York could restore a diversified structure to its waterfront, slowing the water before it makes land.
Joachim points out that dumping junk into New York waterways has a long history, much of it constructive in nature. Parts of Manhattan, like Battery Park City, were built on land created artificially from construction waste. And sinking ships is already one means of disposal, for the sake of creating artificial reefs. The only other method is what is known as “ship breaking”, which is far worse.
This methods of retiring ships involves cutting ships up for scrap and then recycling the usable steel parts. This practice is both environmentally unsound and can lead to toxic chemicals leeching into the ocean, which is why the majority of ship breaking operations occur in developing countries, such as Bangladesh, India, China, Pakistan and Turkey.
So in addition to offering protection to coastal cities that are currently ill-prepared for the worst effects of Climate Change, reusing ships to augment the world’s harbor fronts could also help reduce the environmental stress we place on other coastlines. It’s like repurposing one problem to deal with two more. Quite clever, when you think about it!