Florida's 'Artificial Reef' Has Turned Into an Environmental Disaster

Florida's 'Tire Reef' Has Turned Into an Environmental Disaster
Florida's 'Tire Reef' Has Turned Into an Environmental Disaster. Tires in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, dumped in the 1970s in an attempt to establish an artificial reef. Photo: Steve Spring/Marine Photobank.

It was once believed to be a life-saver for the environment, but now, everyone just wants it to go away.

Perceived as a win-win way to get rid of the tires filling Florida landfills by putting them to use as an artificial reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, about two million tires were bound with metal clips and dumped in the Atlantic Ocean back in 1972.

The tire reef project was organized by Ray McAllister, an ocean engineering professor at Florida Atlantic University, and was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The artificial reef made of 700,000 old tires that was "built" off the coast of Fort Lauderdale in the 1970s was supposed to attract fish and allow new coral to grow, the Sun Sentinel reported.

"There are just tires for as far as you can see," Pat Quinn, a Broward County biologist, told the Sun Sentinel. "People who see it for the first time come to the surface and say, 'Oh, my God.'"

But this 35-acre graveyard of rubber needs to be removed as soon as possible because the project has not gone as the experts had hoped. The metal clips holding the tires together were corroded by the salt water, freeing them from their restraints and damaging the coral nearby.

"Right now it's just a wasteland," Alex Delgado, coordinator of the dive project to remove the tires, said. "It's tires everywhere. Now we need to correct it before it does additional damage."

Earlier this year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved $1.6 million in state funding to be used for the cleanup operations, Orlando Weekly reported. Day after day, divers are removing hundreds of tires from the ocean floor as they work diligently and carefully to exhume the failed project while, at the same time, keeping nearby wildlife unharmed.

The divers will be able to remove an additional 90,000 tires from the artificial reef; 72,000 were removed by military divers during training exercises from 2007 to 2009, the Sun Sentinel also said. That leaves more than half a million tires that won't be touched during this project, many of which are buried in sand and can't be disturbed due to wildlife. Experts told the Sun Sentinel that they're still trying to decide what to do about the remaining tire reef.

As the tires are brought out of the water, they are trucked to a Port Everglades facility to be burned for electricity.

Is Using the Tires to Generate Electricity Another Bad Idea?

The tires are being taken to an energy plant, where they’re being used to generate electricity – yet another recycling idea that may be well-intentioned but environmentally unsound.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that tire-derived fuels are a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

However, like coal, when tires burn, they release carbon carcinogens, according to Neil Carman, a clean air director with the Sierra Club.

“The EPA needs to change its daily standards,” he told the Michigan Free Press. “Tires are a dirty fuel.”

Here’s my own well-intentioned idea for all those tires: Recycle them as materials for eco-friendly, low-maintenance sidewalks. Unlike concrete, rubber sidewalks don’t suffocate tree roots nor are they buckled by them, which could help prevent the removal of trees.

As the Washington Post once noted, “Rubber sidewalks — good for the trees, easier on the knees, no cracks to break your mother’s back.”
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