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Ft. Lauderdale’s Disastrous Underwater Tire Reef

Ft. Lauderdale’s Disastrous Underwater Tire Reef

An artificial reef made of discarded tires was created off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in the 1970s. It proved to be a monumental mistake, destroying natural coral in the area. Cleanup efforts continue to this day, and have barely made a dent in the massive number of tires on the ocean floor.

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Osborne Reef

A large circle of tires was placed about 7000 feet offshore in an attempt to recycle used tires and to attract more game fish to the area by the creation of an artificial structure known as the Osborne Reef. Around two million tires were deposited in bundles in about 65 feet of water off of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Some internet “fact” pages circulated memes a few years ago that suggested the tires were discarded there, which is inaccurate. The tires were purposely placed at this location in the 1970s in a failed attempt at creating an artificial reef.

Why it Failed

The tires were held together by steel components, which quickly corroded and allowed many of the tires to separate from the “reef.” This unexpected mobility of the tires prevented marine life from growing on them. Tropical storms and hurricanes increased the mobility of these loose tires, which scoured the ocean floor and damaged existing reefs in the area. Thousands of tires have been spotted as far north as North Carolina.

Cleanup

Since 2007, the U.S. military engaged in several missions to remove the tires, using the cleanup process for diving and rescue training purposes. It is estimated that over 60,000 tires had been removed as of 2008. After the initial cleanup effort in 2008, it would be 7 years before efforts would resume.

As military divers were called away to more pressing issues such as wars and natural disasters, cleanup efforts stalled.

In May 2015, a renewed effort to remove about 90,000 tires was initiated. This new effort is expected to take two years and cost about $1.6 million.

The recovered tires will be taken to the west coast of Florida and burned a fuel at a renewable waste plant in the Tampa area.

Even with this extensive cleanup operation, more than a half million tires will remain in the ocean.

Video

Below is a short video showing divers removing tires from the area.

Bottom Line

In the 1970s, an artificial reef was created from over a million discarded tires near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The bundled tires quickly broke free, causing damage to natural coral. Cleanup efforts continue to this day and have only made a small dent in the large number of tires on the ocean floor.

Sources

Updated March 9, 2016
Originally published May 2013

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  • Timothy Campbell

    “The tires were held together by steel components, which corroded…”

    I have a feeling that the idea seemed so awesome and win-win when it was proposed that nobody thought too carefully about whether or not it would actually work.

    Note to self: Sea water is kind of hard of metal.

    • waffles

      Engineers of the 1970s certainly should have known better. It seems a bit strange that somewhere during the process of bundling 2 million tires someone didn’t think this might happen.

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