Surely many of them are just left in place, but if Subsea Environmental Services (SES) gets involved, they’re picked up and recycled. Their ship, the Rebecca, is currently at anchor in New York Harbor.
SES specializes in the recovery of out-of-service submarine telecommunications cables. Since most global data and voice traffic runs through trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific cables, the infrastructure keeps improving and copper cables are replaced by faster fiber optic lines. According to Hibernia Cable, the 2012 generation of cables has a trans-Atlantic latency of under 60 milliseconds.
The Rebecca picks up the old cable over a roller on the modified bow and coils it in the cargo holds below deck.
SES is a private company and says it has removed around 10,000 miles of cable from the ocean floor to date. The cables consist of high-quality materials such as plastics and metal, which can get recycled and reintroduced into the manufacturing process.
Their website shows completed projects in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean. We don’t know where their next job will be but we’ll be following on AIS.