Manning a Sunken Tank: Jordan Bets on Underwater Military Nostalgia to Preserve Reefs

Submerged army museum set to boost tourism, divert divers from natural resources

A Jordanian battle tank on the seabed of the Red Sea, Aqaba underwater military museum, July 23, 2019
Aqaba Specia Economic Zone Authority/Handout via AFP

The Jordanian resort city of Aqaba inaugurated an unusual tourist attraction on Wednesday: an underwater military museum.

Diving enthusiasts will be able to man one of the Jordanian Armed Forces' anti-aircraft guns, swim up a military crane or into an armored personnel carrier and multiple tanks at a depth of 28 meters below sea level.

Starting in early 2020, visitors will be able to "explore military machines stationed along coral reefs imitating a tactical formation," the Jordan Times quoted from a statement put out by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority.

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A military helicopter about be submerged as part of a new underwater military museum, Jordan, July 24, 2019.
Muhamned Hamed/Reuters

As well as boosting tourism, the Underwater Military Museum Dive Site, which authorities expect to grow over time, is seen as an opportunity to draw tourists away from natural coral reefs, a precious but fragile resource especially affected by human activity.

A 2017 study by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev conducted in the neighboring Israeli city of Eilat has shown that man-made reefs are more popular with divers than natural reefs.

If current trends continue, experts warn that coral reefs worldwide will all but disappear by 2050, with major consequences on the global ecosystem. Human activity is reportedly mostly to blame for the phenomenon.

A Jordanian Cobra helicopter lowered to the seabed of the Red Sea, Aqaba underwater military museum, July 23, 2019
Aqaba Specia Economic Zone Authority/Handout via AFP

Research by Swiss and Israeli scientists published in 2017 states that local coral has showed unique resilience – but increased port traffic, climate change and human interaction remain a critical concern.

According to official figures, around 100,000 people visited Aqaba in 2018, and the number is only likely to increase with multiple low-cost flight options from Europe to Eilat.

A Jordanian Khalid battle tank on the seabed of the Red Sea, Aqaba underwater military museum, July 23, 2019
Aqaba Specia Economic Zone Authority/Handout via AFP

Other parts of the world have bet on sinking man-made equipment in order to boost coral preservation as well as tourism. The state of New York submerged part of the 1955 Tappan Zee Bridge, decommissioned in 2017, off the coast of Long Island in 2018.

“Bridge heaven is, you spend all your life above the water serving people, then you go to bridge heaven, which is you go below the water,” governor Andrew Cuomo said at the time, according to CBS.

Bahrain and Turkey have also sunk passenger airliners off their coast in order to create aquatic theme parks doubling as maritime habitats.