Why divers have to remove 2m tyres, one by one

A A A

By Geoffrey Lean

ENVIRONMENT EDITOR

Take one of the world's greatest waste problems, and turn it into one of the planet's most precious habitats. It seems a classic green win-win. But dumping used tyres in the sea to make artificial coral reefs has proved to be an environmental disaster.

This summer US military divers will start removing - one by one - some two million of them from the world's biggest "tyre reef", a mile out in the sea off Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after they had been found to be killing coral, rather than creating it.

Waste tyres are a problem. Leave them in piles and they can catch fire; dumps have burned uncontrollably for years. Bury them and they rise eerily to the surface. Yet more than a billion tyres require disposal worldwide every year.

So the idea of turning them into artificial coral reefs, mimicking the Earth's richest underwater wildlife habitats, seemed ideal. Corals would attach themselves to the rubber and grow, it was thought, providing shelter and breeding grounds for fish - and boosting catches.

Fort Lauderdale was one of the first to try it. In spring 1972, more than 100 private boats came to help. Goodyear provided the tyres, dropping a gold-painted one into the water from a blimp to launch the project.

The idea spread. Malaysia and Indonesia were among developing countries that launched huge programmes; by 1995 there were 67 tyre reefs off Malaysia alone.

But corals refused to grow on the smooth surface of the tyres. The only life attracted to them were "weedy" sponges and stinging hydroids. Worse, the tyres broke free of restraining chains , and were carried by currents to slam into real coral reefs. Many settled on the corals, doing more damage. And storms dumped the tyres, up to half a million at a time, on North Carolina and Florida beaches.

William Nuckols ofCoastal America, which is helping to organise the clean-up, calls them a "a constantly killing coral-destruction machine".

It is expected to take three years, and at least $40m (£20m) to remove the tyres, and that's just for Florida.

Malaysia and Indonesia have similar stories. Dr Bill Alevizon, who conducted a review of reefs in Malaysia, calls tyres "undersea juggernauts". James Francesconi, artificial reef co-ordinator in North Carolina, adds: "I encourage no one else to put another piece of freaking rubber in the ocean again."

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, goes back to his family's Sicilian roots in the first 'Godfather' film
film
News
Kim Kardashian speaks on the Today show about her step-father's transition
PEOPLE
Arts and Entertainment
Kermit and his doppleganger Hyalinobatrachium dianae
film
Sport
Wenger and Mourinho square-up to each other earlier this season
All the action from today's Premier League, including Everton vs Man Utd and Chelsea vs Arsenal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions