Boat sinks in Chesapeake Bay — on purpose

Scientists from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources sank a 50-foot yacht made out of concrete aiming to use it as an artificial reef. (Courtesy Maryland DNR)

The Chesapeake Bay has seen its share of shipwrecks and sunken boats over the centuries, from war, piracy, or just tragic accidents. On Wednesday, another boat was added to that long list. But this time, it wasn’t an accident.

Scientists from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources took a more than 50-foot long abandoned yacht made out of concrete, had it towed away from the harbor where it had sat untouched for the last several decades, and sunk it off the northern tip of Kent Island.

“The Love Point site is about a 50-acre square” if you’re looking at a map, said Mike Malpezzi, the coordinator of the artificial reef program. About a quarter of that site is filled with chunks of concrete and rock to serve as an artificial reef.

“It provides instant, hard-bottom habitat,” he said. “Oysters, barnacles, mussels, that sort of thing, they live by attaching on to hard (surfaces), rocks or oyster shells and things like that. They can’t live just on sand or mud.”

Over time, a lot of those habitats have been destroyed, and Malpezzi said “this is a way to put some of that habitat back very quickly.”

All those filter feeds — barnacles and mussels — will help filter the water of the bay.

“It’ll also act as habitat for a lot of juvenile fish,” said Malpezzi. “They’ll seek out the structure to hide and they can eat bits of algae and little bits of food that cling to the structure. Once you have a bunch of little fish hanging around you’ll also get big fish that come around to try and eat the little fish. So you’ll get larger game fish.”

Crabs might also hide under the sunken boat on the bottom in the hopes of avoiding predators, while ambushing other organisms that go crawling by.

The unique features of this abandoned boat, namely the fact that it’s made with a special type of concrete, proved to be the perfect fit for this type of project. Most of the time, Malpezzi said he has to reject offers people make to use their old boats in similar manners.

“This boat was actually pretty special,” said Malpezzi. “This boat was larger than most that I’ve been seeing. It was pretty well built. Despite being rather old it was in really good shape.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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