Turkey sank an Airbus A300 in the Aegean Sea in an attempt to boost diving tourism and marine biodiversity. Artificial coral reefs are increasingly popular, while their natural counterparts are fighting to survive in warming oceans.
The unusual sight of an airplane being intentionally sunk into water could be observed in Turkey last week, off the coast of Kuşadası. The airplane was first disassembled, transported to the coastal city by truck, reassembled and submerged.
According to government officials, the underwater airplane is meant to offer a habitat to marine creatures and attract diving aficionados. This is not a first in Turkey, where four smaller planes have already been sunk for similar reasons in the past few years. In fact, this is part of a global trend of creating artificial reefs – with objects ranging from shopping carts to concrete sculptures – as natural ones are slowly perishing.
On Monday this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States (NOAA) presented some alarming findings at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Hawaii. According to the NOAA, the global coral bleaching event that started in summer 2014 is likely to continue in 2016 due to higher than average ocean temperatures. While corals can recover from short bleaching events, long-term ones are much more likely to kill them.
Healthy coral lives in a symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. Corals rely on zooxanthellae for oxygen and nutrient provision as well as waste disposal. In exchange, corals provide the unicellular algae protection and some key compounds for photosynthesis. Coral bleaching happens when the algae leave the coral, due to external factors such as increased ocean temperatures, pollution or overexposure to sunlight. Without its algae, the coral loses its color (hence the term ‘bleaching’) and, most importantly, it loses its source of food and resilience against diseases.
Coral bleaching threatens not only the survival of the corals themselves, but the hundreds of other plants and animals that adapted to this ecosystem. This is where artificial reefs such as the Airbus A300 can be useful, by giving all these organisms an alternate structure to use as a foundation for their community. At this stage there is no consensus among biologists regarding the value of these artificial reefs.