Under the Sea: From Cape May-Lewes Ferry to Artificial Reef

Cape May-Lewes ferry, MV Twin Capes  (photo credit: DNREC

by Sherilyn Lau

Have you ever wondered what’s on the ocean floor?  Or maybe you’ve thought about what type of home supports marine life such as sea whips and mussels?

On the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 26 miles due east of the Indian River Inlet in Delaware, lies a collection of retired vessels given new purpose as part of the Del-Jersey-Land Inshore Artificial Reef.

I’ve experienced the cleanup process of several retired military vessels as they were readied to become these new deep-water homes.  These vessels hold historical and cultural significance as former World War II destroyers or vessels that have served in rescue missions.  Upon their conversion to reefs, these vessels develop ecological significance as hard substrate for underwater organisms and serve as habitat or refuge for fish and other marine life.

EPA scientific diver collecting samples to determine the ecological succession of marine organisms on the artificial reef

The Del-Jersey-Land reef is home to the destroyer USS Arthur W. Radford, the former freighter turned menhaden fishing vessel, MV Shearwater, and the Zuni/Tamaroa, a Coast Guard cutter most famous for a rescue depicted in the book and movie The Perfect StormClick here for a video of her scuttling.

I recently had the opportunity to walk through the retired Cape May-Lewes ferry, MV Twin Capes, to ensure it was properly prepared to become the latest addition to the reef.

The MV Twin Capes was part of the original 1970s Cape May-Lewes Ferry fleet.  Due to low ridership, the Delaware River and Bay Authority decided to put her up for sale in 2013.  The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) acquired the vessel in 2017 and is responsible for the cleaning and proper waste management of materials removed from the ship.

DNREC demonstrated that no PCBs were detected in the samples taken from the vessel to ensure compliance with the Toxic Substances Control Act.  In addition, large electronics, bulk debris and recyclables were removed.  Photo documentation, manifests of waste disposal, U.S. Coast Guard and marine chemist reports, as well as a signed affidavit by DNREC, were provided to EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region to satisfy EPA’s and the Maritime Administration’s national guidance. 

The MV Twin Capes was sunk on June 14 and this hard reef structure is expected to support the aquatic food chain and larger marine species.  Our Scientific Dive Unit is capturing the functional progress of these artificial reefs in partnership with DNREC.  MV Twin Capes and the other artificial reefs will continue to support the regional economy by attracting recreational diving and sports fishing from Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland.

Although they may not be active in their traditional sense, there is an underworld of activity that still surrounds and occupies these proud vessels.


About the Author:  Sherilyn Lau is an Environmental Scientist in EPA Region 3’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division, Office of Monitoring and Assessment, Coastal Science Team


Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.