Recently the Florida House proposed $1.8 million, the Senate, $900,000 for new technologies to complement the hand removal of tires from a tire reef off Ft. Lauderdale. Removal? The announcement piqued my curiosity. I remember back in the seventies, creating artificial reefs from tires was a new, promising idea, endorsed by the Army Corp of Engineers.
It seemed like a win/win. On land, tires were ubiquitous pollutants. Creation of artificial reefs would attract game fish and be a boon to tourist-minded South Florida. It was such an easy, promising project, tire reefs were created off the northeastern United States, in the Gulf of Mexico, and along Asian and African coastlines.
Forward thirty years. Little marine life attached to the tires. When dropped, the two million tires off the Florida coast had been latched together with corrosive nylon restraints which ultimately failed. Storms tossed single tires on a collision course with natural reefs, doing great harm. Hurricanes Opal and Bonnie (1995 and 1998) strew tires across Florida’s beautiful panhandle beaches and popular North Carolina beaches.
Thus began efforts to rid the sea of tires. An experiment by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection would have allowed companies who had damaged sea beds and reefs to mitigate reef destruction by removing tires from Osborne Reef. The state did not follow through on the plan. In 2001 Nova Southeastern University received a grant from NOAA to manually extract tires. 1600 were removed at a cost of $17 per tire.
As part of a training program, DiveExEast07, U S Navy, Army and Coast Guard divers recovered 43,900 at a cost to the state of $140,000. This cost included transportation to a shredding facility in Georgia where the tires were burned as fuel. 2009 saw Army and Navy divers again working to relocate tires caught against a natural reef.
Does burning tires for fuel strike anyone else as foolhardy? The majority of tires placed in our oceans are still there, albeit not in their original locations. The recent pledge by the Florida House and Senate will also fund a study on the environmental benefits of the tire removal program. Really? Don’t we already know what the benefits are? In my mind, the money would be better spent studying ways to remove the tires and do so without creating another environmental disaster, this one in the air we breathe.