Liberty Ships, Artificial Reefs – Texas Parks and Wildlife [Official]
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Liberty Ships, Artificial Reefs – Texas Parks and Wildlife [Official]

January 16, 2020


♪♪ NARRATOR: In the Gulf of Mexico,
nine miles off the shore of Freeport, Texas, the stripped
hull of the SS George Vancouver lies quietly. A wide variety of marine
organisms cover the ship’s bulkheads. Red snapper, grouper, and many
other species of fish lurk about the recesses
of the sunken vessel, searching for their next meal. Navy sailors and merchant
marines no longer clamor about her deck, keeping an eye for
enemy ships, planes, and submarines. The ship is now at peace, but
she was born as a vessel of war. ♪♪ The SS George Vancouver was
one of 2,700 liberty ships manufactured between
1941 and 1945. Using an assembly-line process,
the ships were built quickly and efficiently. The Vancouver was constructed in
less than 50 days at a cost of around two million dollars. Some liberty ships were
assembled in less than a week. They were the workhorses of
World War II carrying troops, supplies and ammunition to war
theaters throughout the world. Although the liberty ships were not designed to wage war, they often found themselves in the midst of battle but having just a few guns, ships were sitting ducks vulnerable to attack. (blasts) In fact, the day these
vessels were built, they were expendable. Their expected life span was
only five years and so great of casualty rate
that the Navy considered one safe voyage per ship
a success. ♪♪ Each liberty had around a dozen
naval guards who manned the guns and defended the ship. The remaining crew members
were civilian volunteers called merchant marines. But the government could not
enlist enough of these sailors to man the thousands of
liberty ships being built. Virtually no potential
recruit was turned away. Men as young as 16 or
as old as 80 were officially accepted, even if
they had just one eye, one leg, or heart problems. ♪♪ Serving on one of these cargo
vessels was dangerous work. During 1942, liberty ships
were being destroyed at a rate of about one
every three days. In all, the merchant marines
suffered a greater percentage of war-related deaths than any
branch of the armed forces. (gunfire) Yet despite all the casualties
and hardship, at wars-end, liberty ships and their crews
had carried out the largest transport of supplies
in the history of humanity. ♪♪ By the 1950’s, most of the
liberty ships had been scrapped for spare parts or
stored away in mothball fleets. Unwanted relics from the past. (machinery humming) In 1972, the state of Texas
acquired 12 of the old ships, including the
SS George Vancouver. In an ironic twist of fate,
these ships, which survived enemy attack during the war,
would be intentionally sunk as artificial reefs
in the Gulf of Mexico. But first, each vessel had to
be prepared for submersion. All structures above the
second deck were dismantled. The piping, wiring, and
propulsion gear were removed. The fuel and ballast tanks were
cleaned, filled, and sealed. Finally, large holes were cut
along the side walls to allow water and fish to flow
throughout the structure. The ship was now ready to be
towed to its final resting spot. ♪♪ Once she sinks, the Vancouver
will play an important part in the area’s biological design. That’s because the bottom of
the gulf is virtually flat. But many species of marine life
need some kind of hard object on which to attach. Include a large structure like
the hull of a liberty ship, and an entire ecosystem forms. ♪♪ (divers splashing) Today, underwater colonies
are thriving throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Artificial reefs created from
oil rigs, liberty ships, and other man-made materials
contribute almost one-third of the gulf’s hard bottom habitat. These reefs are also good
locations to dive and fish. SCIENTIST: Jan, ah, they’re
at C-5. They’re bringing it up to the
deck and they say there’s about 10 to 12 fish in there. JAN: They’re gonna
start tagging them? SCIENTIST: They’re fixing
to start tagging them. JAN: Good deal. NARRATOR: And there’s
another benefit. Artificial reefs make
perfect sites… DIVER: 5-6-0-4-2. SCIENTIST: This is number
seven right here. NARRATOR: …for
scientific research. SCIENTIST: Brian, how are you
doing on air time down there? DALE SHIVELY: The main
objective of this study is to determine whether fish are
really utilizing the reef sites. Are they really reproducing
on reef sites. – And the fish that we are
targeting to monitor are red snapper. SCIENTIST: 5-6-0-4-0. NARRATOR: Each year, biologists
tag thousands of fish throughout the state of Texas. But sometimes,
complications arise. DIVER: This is another
recapture snapper. DALE: Red snapper especially
have air bladders that get extended when you bring
them up to the surface. And mortality has been
estimated at this depth. If you bring a fish up
from the 50 foot mark, you get about a 30% mortality. DIVER: Snapper 2-0-9. NARRATOR: So, instead of
bringing the fish up to scientists, the scientists
are diving down to the fish. JAN: The fish never come above
20 feet and they’re safe. They don’t embolize. They are not stressed out by
being tagged underwater. We’ve seen video of the
fish and they’re fine. After they’re all standing up
after the trap’s open, they look like nothing
happened to them. ♪♪ NARRATOR: This is just one of
several tagging methods that help scientists learn about fish
migration and population growth. And the SS Vancouver is an ideal
site for tagging these fish. DALE: Well, the liberty ships or
any type of artificial structure can be compared to an
oasis in the desert. It provides the foundation for
the beginnings of life, for the beginnings
of an ecosystem. ♪♪ JAN: And I’m very proud
of it because it’s full of gorgonian corals. It has occulina corals on it. It has a lot of invertebrates. It has stone crabs on it. It’s just a wealth of animals
are living and growing on this reef site and it’s 20 years
old and we’re very, very proud of it. NARRATOR: The Vancouver has
been given a second life, providing much-needed habitat
for marine animals: a big aquarium in the
Gulf of Mexico. It’s a fitting epitaph for
a ship that once served our country in war. She now gets a retirement
of peace and purpose. ♪♪ For more information about
the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Artificial Reef
Program, visit our website. Use the interactive
reef map to explore over 50 reef locations
in the Gulf.

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