In the 1970s, nearly two million tires were dumped off the coast of Broward County, Florida, in an attempt to create an artificial reef that would attract fish and boost tourism. But the project backfired spectacularly, as the tires turned out to be a disaster for the marine ecosystem.
Instead of providing a habitat for fish, the tires did more harm than good. They did not attract marine life and instead damaged the natural coral reefs by smothering them or crashing into them due to the currents. The tires also became a source of pollution, as they leached chemicals and metals into the water.
The environmental error and visual eyesore was costly, and with the effort eventually viewed by experts as harmful and catastrophic, the cleanup began in 2007. The project has involved the U.S. military, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and Broward County, as well as a marine contractor and a grant from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.
More than 170,000 tires have been removed so far, but hundreds of thousands remain on the ocean floor, covering about 34 acres of the reef site. The remaining tires are partially or fully buried in the sand, making them harder and more expensive to remove, requiring special equipment and more time and divers.
“We’ll never be done,” said Pat Quinn, a biologist for Broward County who is supervising the tire removal work. “Frankly nobody knows,” he said about the exact number of tires originally dumped.
“The increase in cost is due to the increased level of effort needed to remove the remaining tires as they are no longer in close proximity to one another so additional time and divers are needed to retrieve the tires,” according to a state DEP spokesperson.
The tire removal project has also served as a military training exercise through the Innovative Readiness Training Program. “This coral reef restoration project was unique in several ways,” said a Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division official.
The tire reef was one of several failed attempts to create artificial reefs using materials such as concrete, metal, and even old cars. “Tires were one of those materials. The project started in the 1970’s offshore Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale by dumping bundles of tires, nearly two million, at a depth ranging from 60 to 70 feet for the purpose of creating habitat for fishing,” according to a Marine Resources Tire Removal Program document.
The tire reef is a cautionary tale of how human interventions can have unintended consequences for the environment. The state officials are looking for ways to finish the project and restore the ocean floor to its natural state.
– ‘We’ll never be done’: The growing challenge to remove thousands of car tires from ocean floor, South Florida Sun Sentinel, June 6, 2023
– Coral Reef Restoration – Broward County, Broward County, June 7, 2023
– Marine Resources Tire Removal Program – Broward County, Broward County, June 8, 2023
– Osborne Reef Tire Removal Program Set to Begin – Broward County, Broward County, June 9, 2023