As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo watched Saturday, workers dropped materials that once were used to build the Staten Island Expressway, the Erie Canal, and the Kew Gardens and Kosciuszko bridges into the Atlantic Ocean as part of the state's artificial reef program. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spent Saturday afternoon on a boat 15 miles off the coast of Captree State Park. 

He watched as state workers dropped old steel girders 61 feet deep into the Atlantic Ocean. The work was part of New York's artificial reef program, an effort designed to increase biodiversity in the waters surrounding Long Island. The steel will create a new habitat for marine life and rejuvenate the region's fisheries, state officials said. 

"New York State is doing more than any state in the United States when it comes to climate change and protecting the environment," Cuomo said. 

On Saturday, state workers plunged former material used to create the Staten Island Expressway, the Erie Canal, as well as the Kew Gardens and Kosciuszko bridges. They also dropped the Army Corps of Engineers' M/V Hudson, a 19-ton steel vessel  once used on rescue missions. Later this year, the state plans to add artificial reefs near Atlantic Beach, McAllister Grounds, Yellowbar, Kismet, Matinecock, and Twelve Mile, bringing the total number of sites to 12: two in Long Island Sound, two in Great South Bay, and eight in the Atlantic off Long Island's South Shore.

Alison Branco, coastal director at the Nature Conservancy, applauded the work Saturday and said New York "has built the most impressive artificial reef program across the nation."

"Our marine resources are crucial to our economy, our environment and our way of life on Long Island, and we must continue to invest in protecting them for generations of New Yorkers to come," Branco said. 

Cuomo said it took decades for the nation's leaders to take climate change seriously. Now that Americans realize the issue is real, New York must lead the way in finding ways to reverse the damage, Cuomo said. He said the state must specifically help Nassau and Suffolk counties "because Long Island is ground zero for environmental concerns."

Kelly Cummings, New York's state operations and infrastructure director, said the artificial reef program began in 1993, but "very little material had actually been deployed" until last year. 

In May 2018, Cuomo visited Shinnecock Inlet to announce material from the demolished Tappan Zee Bridge would be submerged. Those materials have been under water for more than a year. 

"The results in just one year are absolutely astounding," Cummings said. "The materials have been transformed, and the reefs are teeming with life."

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