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Photo: Legr0004

Commercial planes are one of man’s greatest inventions, and for over 100 years they have taken us to and fro. Vacationing families, corporate businessmen and those moving abroad, have been given a new way to shorten their travel times with safety and ease. Planes have endowed mankind with a sense of pride and glory, but who would have ever thought planes could bear such a hand in environmental stability?

Recently, outside Turkey’s coastal town of Kusadasi, onlookers were treated to a rare and intriguing spectacle involving a submerged, 177-foot long aircraft. Purchased for about $93,000, the plane was not being recovered from an underwater wreckage; rather, it was being placed on the sea floor with a very special purpose in mind…

Kusadasi officials were persuaded by the notion of tourism, aiming to provide more appeal to visitors while simultaneously protecting marine life. The plane is designed to segregate species from fleeting divers by serving as a potential housing unit and keeping them safe (the market in America may still be in trouble, but it’s a great time to look if you’re a fish).

Areas like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia have also been in poor health since the 1980s. Ocean acidification and man-made weather changes haven’t been great for coral species, which are vanishing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, a recent UN climate report threw out all mentions of “Australia” and the “Great Barrier Reef” out of fear that their inclusions would harm Australia’s travel syndicate.

But not all countries are willing to put their environments at risk, and some are attempting to keep ecological safety and tourism in separate categories. Ozlem Cercioglu, mayor of the province encompassing Kusadasi, has explained the idea behind the plane, saying “Our goal is to make Kusadasi a center of diving tourism… Our goal is to protect the underwater life, and with these goals in mind, we have witnessed one of the biggest wrecks in the world.”

Archaeologists surveying a sunken WWII auxiliary vessel on the Maritime Heritage Trail, Battle of Saipan, Tanapag Lagoon. Presumably the torpedoed Shoan Maru. (Photo Credit: Legr0004 / WikiMedia Commons)

Archaeologists surveying a sunken WWII auxiliary vessel on the Maritime Heritage Trail, Battle of Saipan, Tanapag Lagoon. Presumably the torpedoed Shoan Maru. (Photo Credit: Legr0004 / WikiMedia Commons)

The notion of using man-made technology to create false reefs has been around for over 40 years. In areas such as Australia and even California, reefs have been constructed using quarry rock, streetcars and even ships and barges, but not everyone is convinced they work.

The World Wildlife Fund, for example, points out that while artificial ecosystems do keep certain species away and free from human interference, the tourism and fishing practices they’re also meant to attract are precisely what’s causing declines in natural reefs to begin with. The WWF further states that about 25 percent of the planet’s natural reef systems are damaged beyond repair, while a great many more are being seriously threatened.

Others, such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration biologist James Bohnsack, argue that the artificial reefs actually displace species, forcing them to relocate and hurting their chances at replenishing their numbers.

“It’s like a sponge,” explained Bohnsack. “Squeeze out the water, and it’ll soak up more.”

But Cercioglu is confident the experiment will prove successful. Fish and marine life have made nesting grounds in downed aircraft before, as with an American WWII plane recently discovered last May, and the critters have certainly flourished in them. She expects Turkey’s biodiversity to increase as a result of the artificial habitat, and thinks the country will witness a whole new batch of tourists to boot.

“We expect some 250,000 domestic and foreign tourists per year to come here for diving,” she expressed with pride.

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