Tires on the ocean floor are a poor substitute for reefs. We know that now, but 35 years ago, when those tires were put there, the idea was very different. And now we are paying the consequences for naïve ideas.
In 1972, as many as two million used tires were dumped off the coast of Florida. This was because of an idea that would dispose of this trash and create new reefs for sea life to flourish.
A professor of ocean engineering that was part of organizing the project said, “The really good idea was to provide habitat for marine critters so we could double or triple marine life in the area. It just didn’t work that way. I look back now and see it was a bad idea.”
There are many problems that have arose as a result of this action taken. First, the tires are migrating to other places. These tires, when first disposed of, were bound together by steel or nylon. But as the last 35 years have passed, the salt water has eroded these ties and freed the tires from their bundles. Now when hurricanes come, old tires are brought to shore. In 1996, Hurricane Fran left tires all over North Carolina’s beach. Apparently, the sea does not want our help in building reefs and is sending these artificial ones back.
Many tires also end up on the beaches from the tide carrying it, without a storm. Another unforeseen hazard is as these tires are carried by the tide on a daily basis, they not only litter the seashore, but they are destroying original living reef tracts by being drug over them and left on top of them. This will take decades to heal, provided the tires are removed.
There are also many concerns that these artificial reefs that are being made will only provide a concentration of marine life, which can be easily located by fisherman. This can throw off the sea balance by catching a large amount of a certain species.
They also fear the sea balance can be pulled out of proportion by causing sea life to settle in certain areas, leaving many areas empty that would have been populated naturally. And some scientists think toxins from the rubber leak into the ocean as they decompose.
The Actions That Are Being Taken
Fortunately for the Florida coast, action has been taken this summer. Efforts to remove 700,000 tires from the sea floor started in June. The work was done by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Coast Guard. They successfully removed 10,373 of these old tires in one month. But plenty more are left. These tires are being recycled now in a different way. They are cut up and sent to a disposal plant in Georgia, which will then recycle them.
The United States is not the only country that has tried this experiment with the sea. Other oceans, such as Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia, were littered with millions of tires also, with the belief that it would help.
And tires are not the only trash that has been discarded for artificial reefs. Ships, airplanes, and concrete have also been contributors to this project. Unlike tires, these heavy items do not migrate through the ocean. But many are unsure if these are good ideas for artificial reefs as well.
It is good to see that many are beginning to clean up this mess. It is unfortunate that the tires were ever put into the ocean to begin with. But hopefully we can live and learn from this 35 year experiment that has proven faulty.