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Rubber Reefs

Rubber Reefs

By Tamra Werner

Author of Koli, The Great White Shark books

What sounded like a good idea turned into a disaster. “Let’s toss used tires into the ocean to create artificial reefs. The tires will replenish the dying reefs and give the fish a new playground!” Sadly, the idea backfired big time. Two million tires later, Florida has had a tire graveyard to resurrect from seventy feet below.

Back in the seventies, bundles of tires were dropped in the ocean creating 34 acres of old tires positioned between two natural reefs. The positioning made the natural reefs susceptible to collisions of dislodged tires caused by years of hurricanes and storms. The carbon, sulfur, zinc, etc., toxins also create a lethal environment for the organisms and algae that live on the coral reefs. Something had to be done… It was time to bring in the military.

The Navy and Coast Guard devised a system to bring up one thousand tires daily. The recovery mission became incorporated into their dive training, but the massive amount seen from twenty feet under needed more help. Millions of dollars later, independent organizations like 4 Ocean have dived in to help recycle the tires into bracelets.

The idea of artificial reefs is not all bad. Submerged shipwrecks, rocks, cinder blocks, and sculptures create sanctuaries for marine life to explore and host new reef growth. The artificial and hybrid reefs make diversity and abundance of fish, live corals, sponges, sea urchins, and algae. Dive tourism also benefits from the addition.

Marine biologists made breakthroughs with lab-created reefs growing sexually mature corals transplanted to natural reefs to spawn new growth fifty times faster than average. 3D reefs are also a viable solution to replenish reef attrition. With a concerted effort, there is the hope of cleaning up the ocean with eco-friendly alternatives.

Tamra Werner is the children’s author of Koli, The Great White Sharks books, who educates and entertains children about the marine ecosystem through Koli’s adventures, friendships, and STEM learning sections.


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