Over the weekend, off the Turkish coast in the Aegean Sea, an Airbus A300 jumbo jet sunk into the ocean—on purpose. In an effort to draw tourists back to a nearby seaside destination, Turkish officials purchased the jet and let it slip into the water in hopes it will act as an artificial reef.
In recent years, as Turkey has been rocked by suicide bombings and political unrest, tourism has dropped off significantly, leaving resort towns like Kuşadası scrambling to find ways to draw visitors. By sinking the jumbo jet and letting it transform into an underwater habitat for the diverse creatures that live in the Aegean Sea, local officials hope to bring back diving enthusiasts interested in checking out sea life, Ben Guarino reports for the Washington Post.
"With this project, the aim is to increase the underwater biodiversity off [the] Kuşadası [coast] and to further develop underwater tourism in the area,” Özlem Çerçioğlu, mayor of the nearby Aydin province, tells Turkish newspaper The Daily Sabah. “We expect some 250,000 domestic and foreign tourists per year to come here for diving.”
The 36-year-old Airbus is the third aircraft purposefully sunk into the Aegean to create artificial reefs. Purchased by the provincial Aydın government from a private company for about $93,000, the 177-foot-long jet is purported to be the largest artificial reef ever created, The Daily Sabah reports. Once it was floated out to the chosen location aboard floating balloons, divers helped guide it down to rest 75 feet beneath the surface. The whole process took about 2.5 hours.
“We have witnessed one of the biggest wrecks in the world,” Çerçioğlu tells the Agence France-Presse.
Artificial reefs aren’t new: in recent years, cities and countries around the world have sunk all sorts of objects into the ocean in an attempt to give coral, anemones, and other sea life a foothold. In 2008, New York City dumped 40 old subway cars into the Atlantic Ocean, Jen Carlson writes for Gothamist. And in 2014, a sculptor sank an entire sculpture garden to create an ever-evolving work of art titled “The Silent Evolution.” Over time, sunken ships like the Titanic and a decommissioned aircraft carrier named the U.S.S. Oriskany have become home to all manner of sea life.
Even so, not all large objects tossed into the ocean are suitable for artificial reefs. In order to prepare these machines, workers have to clean every inch—removing anything coated with grease or oil that could pollute the local environment, Carlson writes. In the case of the subway cars, workers steam cleaned interiors and removed doors and windows.
Çerçioğlu’s intentions are as much focused on the economic benefits of creating an artificial reef as the ecological benefits. As the situation on many reefs becomes increasingly dire, sinking these jets may be just as beneficial to tourism as Turkey's underwater neighbors.