Although we may not be able to explain it, we have an innate fascination with abandoned things of all sorts and sizes. Why wouldn’t we be fascinated, though? Being one of only a few living souls who has had a particular experience, in itself, is cool enough. Add creepy, mystical undertones of ghost hauntings (thanks to all those sappy horror movies Hollywood gave us) with the reality that some of these locations harbor a grim past, and you have a full-fledged adventure just waiting to happen!
For the exceptionally daring adventurers, there’s an even greater thrill waiting out there, and most people won’t ever even have the courage to try it—underwater exploration! It has captivated us for a lot longer than it was safe to do so but once the advent of breathing apparatuses came about, we couldn’t wait to get our feet wet. See, we’ve been effectively losing things in the ocean for a lot longer than we’ve been finding them.
As a result, billions of dollars of booty is estimated to be littered across sea floors across the globe. With some of the deepest parts of the ocean estimated at a depth of around 36,000 feet, there’s a lot we’ve never seen before—and a lot we’ll never see again.
Don’t have your deep-submergence vehicle handy? Don’t worry, neither do we. What we do have, however, is the low-down on some pretty cool wrecks. We got curious about what types of cars we could find abandoned under water. And here’s what we found.
21 Who Litters The Ocean?
The answer is everybody. The sheer amount of military hardware that you can find in the ocean (not as a result of a ship’s sinking) is staggering. Usually, you’d expect a ship to sink, or an airplane to ditch, only occasionally in peace times. But when military boats need to purge excess equipment, they aren’t very bashful about it. Increasing awareness for the environment has curbed the practice, but there are more than a handful of instances where literal heaps of trucks, tanks, planes, and helicopters were jettisoned from docks and cargo holds with feverish diligence.
20 Type 1 Water Bug
The “People’s Car” project produced what is arguably the most recognizable vehicle platform in the world. Having been outsold by only the Toyota Corolla (by a margin of almost 100%), it held the “most popular car” designation for a long time, despite its nefarious origins. It wasn’t long before the Beetle gained traction as the “real” people’s car. In a short time, Volkswagens were selling all over the world. With so many Bugs “floating” around, it stands to reason that a handful of them would get lost here and there. This one sits quietly in the murky waters where it was dumped years ago.
Here, this family sedan sits amidst a trash pile next to a reef. The shallow waters diffuse the sunlight in cool, blue shades; the tranquil, underwater currents gently sending ripples through the soft marine growth’s extremities. The rigid car body sits front and center, piled on top of pallets, used tires, and possibly the rest of the front clip, which was dumped separately. Responsible “re-reefing” of marine environments (that stand to benefit from artificial reefs) is a far cry from haphazardly dumping scrap metal into the ocean. Care must be taken to remove hazardous wastes as well as “prepping” the artificial reef for safe diver interactions.
18 Reefer Madness
When projects are initiated to bolster marine life in a particular ecosystem, volunteers don’t just go and toss random scrap heaps overboard willy-nilly, wherever they feel like might be a good spot. Type, nature, and placement of reefs are all variables determined by the habitability and security they will provide for a particular species. Sometimes, this is in an effort to counter natural imbalances in an ecosystem or to possibly insulate against the danger of extinction. Other times, however, it’s in response to damage caused by fishing boats with “rockhopper” trawling gear (nets and rigging designed with big rubber wheels to traverse bumpy bottom conditions).
17 Double Parked
Double parking can land you some hefty fines and tow bills (if you get caught). Double parking in the ocean, however, can ruin a man (if you get caught). Fees of up to $10,000 per instance, six months jail time, and vehicle seizure can follow convictions in Los Angeles County. That potentially makes this “dump” more expensive than your home’s down payment! Is it worth it? To some, the convenience afforded by this shortcut is tempting enough to take the bait, but most people tend to exhibit a higher level of environmental responsibility. Thankfully, intentional ocean dumping is rather rare.
16 Double Trouble
Marine biologists and other conservation agencies identify ecosystems of surmounting environmental concern specifically as “habitats of particular concern,” or HAPCs. The Gulf of Mexico has several marine life locations that are now designated as HPACs due to the rapidly diminishing number of amble hard surfaces for which fish and other marine life may use to thrive. Reefs are used as platforms for reproduction activities, food, and general protection. Although they are sufficient to protect marine life from other predators, they are no match for the massive trawling nets—the apropos metonymy “sea-floor bulldozer” is a fitting description of the destructive interaction the between the trawling rigging and underlying seabed.
15 A Moment In Time
Things like the headlamps, tail lenses, and other fragile exterior components are expected to be broken on many of these soggy wrecks. The sheet metal may remain relatively intact, but as a car body is looking for its final parking spot on the seafloor, the landing isn’t always as graceful as the aftermath would lead you to believe. The underwater collision, in this case, was probably relatively minor. Even if it was a rough landing, there’s no foreseeable way any underwater impact would deform the roof as badly as the car currently looks today.
14 Sunken Booty
Nobody anticipates ships sinking (save for the controlled submersion of decommissioned vessels). When a boat goes down against its original itinerary, often times, it goes down with everything on board. You’re lucky to get out with the suitcase you boarded with and your life. Any cargo in question is instantly considered a collateral loss. When said cargo consists of the automotive variety, it makes for interesting points for viewing underwater. Government agencies understand this and work to make underwater wrecks as safe as possible. Mostly because they know any exclusion zones are likely to be ignored anyway.
13 Turks Lagoon
There is no shortage of underwater wrecks for the daring and adventurous. Caution must be used in the most comprehensive sense, however. Some of the more treacherous underwater dive sites have condemned hundreds of ill-fated explorers to a macabre end, either by entrapment, entanglement, or disorientation. The alluring thrill of patronizing some of history’s prominent drafting locations, like the decimated Imperial Navy assets at the bottom of Chuuk Lagoon (formerly Turks Lagoon), is a truly defining experience. It’s acclaimed as one of the best WWII dive sites thanks to a complement of hundreds of sunken aircraft that stoically intermingle with other vintage military hardware.
12 Corrosion Rates
Despite the relatively undisturbed existence that underwater wrecks enjoy, the grinding tides of time still work to tirelessly wear down the metals. The iron atoms gradually surrender electrons to oxygen atoms in the water, forming an iron oxide compound—or as its better known, rust. Saltwater only expedites the chemical reaction process which would normally eat underwater metals up relatively quickly. Underwater wrecks are preserved, in part, due to the formation of a protective layer of calcium carbonate. If removed from the water, it is said that a rapid disintegration process could consume an entire ship in a few short years.
11 Post-Submersion Statistics
With over 90% of global trade “floating” to its destination, there are a lot of boats out there. The Atlantic theater of WWII consumed over 3,000 merchant vessels, almost 800 submarines, and 175 warships of varying proportions. From 10,000-year-old canoes encased in muck to the halfway-submerged Costa Concordia (that took six years to remove), boats literally litter the ocean floor. There are said to be an estimated three million shipwrecks scattered along the ocean’s floor. Less than 10% of that total number has even been located. Of the known wrecks, only 10% have actually been surveyed—equating to around 1% of the world’s shipwrecks physically being explored by man.
10 Statistics, Statistics, Statistics
Seemingly consistent with the 10% figure, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports an estimated 4,300 wrecks within their 600,000 square-mile network of marine sanctuaries. Of this 4,300 figure, only 432 have been “dived on.” Despite the unwavering enthusiasm by a select number of divers, a majority of the water’s fortunes will likely remain buried in unknown expanses of the seafloor for all eternity. With larger diving expeditions costing millions to organize and execute, the selection of wrecks investigated via a large-scale operation is very tentative. What motivates explorers to pursue lost wrecks? The estimated $60 billion in sunken treasure is a good start.
9 Underwater Exploration
NOAA director James Delgado plays a major role in the investigating of underwater wrecks. Although NOAA’s primary mission (as it pertains to the exploration of sunken vessels) is to document and assess the ecological impact of such wrecks as they stagnate on the ocean floor, charting shipwrecks for maritime safety is also a primary factor. There is, however, another reason to get pumped up about underwater adventures. The X Prize Foundation funds a spectrum of research initiatives; one of which is underwater exploration. Currently, there is a $7 million cash purse for the development team that can produce the best underwater prototype.
8 The Next Level
Ahmed Gabr set the deepest scuba dive record at an astonishing 1,090 feet below the surface. It took him 12 minutes to reach the milestone depth—and 14 hours to return to the surface so that his body could decompress properly. (Decompression sickness is real.) As impressive as this is, nobody has time to languish under the surface that long—and for deeper dives, we’ve entrusted technology to take the brunt of the danger. The Nereus was a remotely operated underwater vehicle (HROV) built to explore depths of 36,000 feet in 2009.
7 Too Deep!
Extreme depth does not mix well with non-native objects, living or otherwise. In 2014, the $8 million submersible was destroyed by implosion after sustaining hull pressures of over 16,000 PSI. With the limits of science scraping up against the impermeable membrane of our technological deficiencies, we can scarcely even measure the deepest depths, let alone explore them in their entirety. The Mariana Trench is over 1,500 miles long (over five times the length of the Grand Canyon). Although it averages less than 50 miles wide, its 36,000-foot depth makes pressures prohibitively destructive.
6 What’s Left?
This leaves us with only a relatively few wrecks that happened to come to rest within relatively shallow waters. It’s recommended to stay above a 130-foot depth without specialized equipment. The difference between 130 feet and 36,000 feet is the difference between how far you can throw a rock and how high up in the sky an Airbus flies. Although this isn’t necessarily promising from a “comprehensively explored” point of view, there are more than enough “known” wreck sites for divers to explore (legally or otherwise), and the thrill of finding your very own discovery is hard to deny!
5 What’s Really Left?
All of this is probably stirring up an adventurous ambition within some of you to go explore your local watering hole just to see what’s down there. And there’s no reason not to—exploring things is fun! Adding an underwater element makes it mystical, even! A word of caution to the would-be treasure hunters though: cool your jets. The overwhelming odds are that you’ll find absolutely nothing of value that a hundred other people haven’t already seen. Additionally, it’s worth considering that even when you do find treasures—as a rule of thumb—expect to spend $10 cleaning and restoring for every one dollar spent exploring.
4 Who ELSE Litters The Ocean
Like we said, everybody. Try to find the logic behind a double-decker bus somehow finding its way under a murky canvas of diffused sunlight in the English Channel. All the windows are long gone but the absence of broken glass supports a theory of repurposing in action. Repurposing gives new life to old scrap in a unique and artistic way, but it’s still litter, isn’t it? Not that we’re complaining; it’s probably the coolest form of litter we’ve ever seen but that shouldn’t encourage you to “contribute” to the collection without first draining all the hazmat from your beater before you “set her free.”
This deuce and a half sits in shallow water after coming to a rest on its wheels. The dump bed indicates the construction truck had a hard and thankless life doing landscaping and grading, rather than front line work. Today, the Marine M-35 denotes its position with a floating buoy for position reporting. The engine has been removed, along with other harmful contaminants that may otherwise harm marine life—tet another example of a shallow-water treasure that’s easily within reach of the casual diver. Attractions like this draw photographers and adventures from far and wide despite warnings and legal ramifications discouraging such activity.
2 Million Dollar Point
Between Fiji and the Solomon Islands (just over 1,000 miles of the Australian coast), rests Million Dollar Point; one of the biggest equipment dump sights worth exploring from WWII. The controversy started when the military was attempting to withdraw from the islands. They had piles of equipment there (that was considered too expensive to transport it back home) so they tried to sell it off to the locals and presiding military for a discounted six cents on the dollar. The locals, feeling the military wasn’t going to remove the equipment either way, rejected the deal, expecting to come up on it for free. Bad move.
1 Million-Dollar Dump
Highly insulted by the strongarm treatment the first-world military power was getting from the tiny island subsidiaries, they did the only thing you could do in that situation. Rather than allow their perfectly serviceable equipment to “freely” fall into the hands of those unwilling to pay for it, they proceeded to dump countless pieces of equipment, large and small, into a huge pile just off the southern tip of the island. Intermixed within the twisted pile of metal frames and drive axles, you’ll find bulldozers, dump trucks, tractor cabs, mobile guns, flatbeds, forklifts, Jeeps, and whatever else you can think of—if it was valuable, it was going into the drink.
Sources: History, Los Angeles County Public Works, Schmidt Ocean Institute, Popular Mechanics, and NOAA.