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article imageMilitary Cleanup: Two Million Used Tires Dumped in Ocean

By malan     Jul 5, 2007 in Environment
Approximately two million tires were dumped off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the 1970s, in an effort to create an artificial reef. Thirty years later the Army, Navy and Coast Guard have combined efforts to begin removing the tires.
Three decades ago, a group of fisherman decided that it would be a good idea to create an artificial coral reef between two natural reefs in the Atlantic Ocean, about a mile off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The material to be used for the job? That's right, you guessed it... 2 Million used car tires. The innocent group of fisherman did not know or understand that what they were doing was harmful, in fact they thought the deed would actually help promote sea life.
Of course the idea went terribly wrong and had the exact opposite effect in the area and the mass of tires became an underwater disaster and could take the Army, Navy and Coast Guard 3-4 years to clean up.
William Nuckols, a representative for Coastal America, the federal office that is helping coordinate the massive tire cleanup says their intentions were pure at the time..."The original intention," Nuckols says, "was to try to provide a fish habitat and add to the natural coral reefs that were there."The local government and the Army Corps of Engineers also had a hand in the 70s operation and each approved the plan to bundle and drop millions of tires into the water... no one could have guessed what would actually happen."Over time," Nuckols says, "the bundles they put together broke apart, as hurricanes and other large coastal storms came through, which you have a lot of here in South Florida. And those have pushed the tire mass onto the middle reef, essentially denuding that one, eliminating all the corals from that one. In the main area, where the tires are, there's really no significant coral growth at all."Divers that have witnessed the underwater landfill say the dumpyard looks unlike any other site they've ever seen before."You get down about 20 feet," says Army Diver Jason Jakovenko, "and it starts to come into sight. ... It's like the moon or something. It's weird. It doesn't look like anything you can imagine. It's just tires for as far as you can see down there."For decades environmentalists have thought of ways to remove the millions of tires and only now, 30 years later does it seem that there may actually be a plan.
The Army, Navy and Coast Gaurd have come together to handle the mission and are currently spending full days pulling up tires from the ocean floor. The clean up area is about 70 feet underwater and covers nearly 34 acres.
For two weeks straight they've worked to remove the tires from the area, bringing up an estimated 1000 tires a day using cables and lift balloons that "float" the tires to the surface.
It's estimated that the project would cost about $30 Million dollars to complete if the county and state had hired private contractors to do the work but thanks to Coastal America, whose job it is to bring federal agencies together on large marine projects the cost is going to be kept at about $2 Million because so many military divers are volunteering their time."So we're accomplishing this for $2 million," Nuckols says, "and saving essentially the taxpayers $28 million in the process, just by reorganizing government in a more efficient way."The work is expected to go on for three to five years and even then many tires will most likely still remain underwater. The goal is to remove as many that are doing the most damage as possible and allow the corral reefs to being to come back to life... but it's no quick fix."Hard corals take many, many years to grow," Banks says. "So, it's going to take a long time for those organisms to resettle back onto that reef and grow up to their typical size. So, I think it will take decades for that reef to recover."
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