As the world grapples with the effects of climate change, the carbon footprints of the ultrarich are now firmly within the purview of the general public. The superyacht, like the private jet, is a motoring luxury for a tier of high-net worth individuals that has increasingly come under fire in recent years. It’s no secret that the vessel generally poses a threat to the environment: An analysis of the top 20 billionaires across the globe found that, in 2018, the elites emitted approximately 8,000 metric tons of CO2 annually—two thirds of which was caused by superyachts. Though electric yachts could be the new wave, the most ecologically friendly yachts may actually be beneath the water’s surface, hosting coral instead of moneyed seafarers. The Marine Cleanup Initiative is bolstering the home market for Floridian aquatic life with the recent addition of a stripped vessel named Time, known as the largest aluminum yacht in its 1988 heyday. Scuttled this month, the 126-foot diesel-powered Palmer Johnson begins a new journey as an artificial reef off the coast of Fort Pierce, Florida, decades after its maiden voyage.
Marine Cleanup Initiative, or MCI, is a nonprofit which has scuttled five such vessels. In addition to sinking ships for the creation of artificial reefs, the organization works across water-restoration projects, including cleanup work in urban tributaries. Christa Stone, MCI’s director of operations, explains that the component materials of a yacht like Time make it an ideal nursery for the local white oculina coral, the species that the nonprofit hopes will swarm the vessel over time.
“Coral loves aluminum and concrete,” Stone explains. “That’s like its number one thing. It’s like ‘Hey, come here, baby girl!’ She’s 264 tons of baby girl. So just imagine, over 50 years, the thought is that the oculina will go to her and she would be covered.” The oculina does not need light-filled waters to survive; a deep water coral, it thrives in darker environments hundreds of feet undersea.
It’s possible for the MCI to chart Time’s progression into a nursery over time via the assistance of tech divers. Stone hopes that news of the scuttling will help draw in reef-dwelling fish, coral, and skilled divers—who must have a certain set of qualifications and no shortage of confidence to descend to its depths—to work with the team on monitoring the reef. “After this particular boat has gained enough interest, I can acquire divers who want to help with maintaining a reef,” Stone says. “We want to have divers who are comfortable at those depths and who get out there enough to have ownership over reporting on it. The more information we have, the more we can help.”