A Yellow Submarine in Every Garage?

submarine private The rich and famous are now buying private submarines. Good or bad for the environment? Brian explores.

My search for bamboo yarn took me to an industrial part of Beijing. The air here smelled of hot steel and coal. I walked past some of the warehouses and workshops behind the Made in China label and came upon a group of men huddled around the gleaming metal object. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a miniature submarine here in this dusty megalopolis, 175km from the nearest sea. I quickly stepped past, wanting to believe what I was seeing while avoiding the glare of  the welder’s arc. I later learned that this was the submarine Tao Xiangli had built for himself using $4600 worth of barrels and other recycled parts. Tao’s submarine is 20 foot long, weighs 1.6 tons and has a maximum depth of 10 meters.

Who wouldn’t want their own submarine to enjoy the beauty of undersea life without getting cold and wet?  Seamagine Hydrospace Corporation of the US hopes their luxury submarines will become the latest must-have toys for the wealthy. Seamagine submarines might not have the character or personal craftsmanship as Tao’s sub, but their Undersea Hunter model can carry up to three people to a depth of 1500 feet (475m).  They certainly look like a fun way to spend a million dollars!

For those of us not in that category of wealth, there is another option. There are about 20 tourist submarines in the world.  The Sindbad club of Egypt offers trips aboard their Mark III submarine to tourists of this Red Sea resort. There are also tourist submarines in Tenerife and Cyprus.

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What will submarines mean for the undersea environment? As divers we are told to avoid stirring up the bottom or allowing our fins to touch the coral reef.  But over the years I saw the number of intact fan corals in the Florida keys diminished.

A single fin kick can wipe out hundreds of years of coral growth.

The sheer number of people who dive in these places became clear to me during one dive when my scuba instructor noticed a bubble on a piece of coral and found that it was actually a diver’s lost contact lens!

Will submarines destroy coral reefs just as jet skis destroy sea grass? It is certainly a possibility.  But as Green Prophet’s Laurie Balbo found, more eyes underwater means that the sea bottom is no longer “out of sight, out of mind.”

Submarine photo via Seamagine.com

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