Environmentalists believe that putting subway cars in the ocean despite their comparatively short life expectancy could eventually blur the line between reef building and the mere disposal of metal junk in the ocean. "We support biologically defensible artificial reef materials that mimic natural ecosystems and provide a long-term biological community of substance," Zipf says.
One question that was largely overlooked in the entire controversy was whether artificial reefs should be created at all. Many fishing groups supported the reef-building efforts, arguing that more reefs and therefore more habitat would lead to more reef fish, but that may not be the case. "It's obviously beneficial to the person who has a boat that makes money renting space on the boat to catch fish. And it's of benefit to the person that has a private boat and wants to catch fish," Bennett says. "The question is whether it's good for the fish, and I don't think we know the answer."
To really enhance the population would require far greater effort. "You'd have to come up with better nursery habitats, cut down dredging, probably put up more different types of reefs and wetlands protection in the small estuaries all along the Mid-Atlantic and cut down on the commercial fishing," Muir says. "Those are two hard sells."