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Artificial Reefs that Fail to Benefit Anything!

For decades, different nations and municipalities have been experimenting with building artificial reefs of differing kinds in the hopes of benefiting fisheries, coral reefs and the ocean itself. With mixed results using various trial and error methods, itís been determined that used vehicle tires are least helpful, and perhaps the most damaging to the ocean environment.

Since 1960, millions of tires have been dumped into the oceans to make artificial reefs around the world. Due to poor political planning and misinformed decisions, many countries still continue to use tire reefs in a misguided effort to increase reef habitats, improve fishing, and enhance surfing sites. But a number of factors play into why tires are detrimental to those purposes: for instance, unless properly anchored, tires shift around with tides, currents and storms so that they no longer are situated where placed.

Among the main countries that have dumped tires in the oceans are the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Israel, France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. France has 90,000 m3 of artificial reefs, but far smaller in size than those around the coast of Japan: the latter remains the world leader with over 20 million m3 in submerged tires, mainly targeted to augment fish populations. The United States is second with over 1,000 sites. In Florida alone, about two millions tires were dumped in the 1970s, but, because of the ever-changing currents and storms out of the Caribbean Sea, coral and fish were unable to use most of them. In the Mediterranean Sea alone, 25,000 auto tires were immersed during the 1980s. By smothering and killing natural coral and sea grass, those same tires now continue to adversely impact the environment.

In short, tires simply do not provide successful fish habitats for fish!

The primary reasons?

Most used tires are coated with hydrocarbons that decompose over time, thereby releasing toxic heavy metals into the sea and into the food chain! How is it that some stringent 5 to 10 year studies were not done first to investigate what reef types are safe and work best, and discard those that donít? Ah yes, short-sighted unscientific planning strategies

Furthermore, the round bald surfaces of old tires do not easily fit into the natural environment and are therefore unsuitable for use by marine life in general. After all, artificial reefs for fish and other life-forms work best when they mimic natural reefs: jagged rocks, undulating ocean floors, and natural land outcroppings provide overhangs and caves that fish and other marine life, such as seals, sea snakes, turtles and clams, use to protect themselves from predators.

And, to reiterate, strong waves and currents sometimes disperse tires so violently that they crush coral, destroy the stabilizing effect of sea grasses, and disrupt the long-term development of sea beds. In some cases, slime-coated tires are even washed up on beaches, dirtying their sands, and interrupting the leisure activities of the public.

As well, itís been discovered that successful artificial reefs tend to concentrate fish populations in or near them, thereby attracting both predators and prey fish populations around the reef, but robbing nearby natural habitats of their own species. In effect, such Ďtire coloniesí help produce an imbalanced environment instead of becoming an integral part of the natural habitat.

How can fish populations be increased?
By wise environmental planning.

Some Other Key Facts

  • In general, tires fail to benefits corals, fishes and the marine environment.

  • Dumped tires destroy sea grasses and corals (bio-physio impacts).

  • Some countries like Indonesia and the Philippines are still dumping tires into their seas, while others like the United States and France are slowly removing them.

  • After being removed from the ocean and cleaned, used tires can still be recycled as playground structures, building materials, erosion control devices, and even as an alternative fuel.

Some Recommendations

  • In Asia, countries like Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines should be informed about the negative impact of tires on the marine environment, and implement a coordinated removal program from their coastline waters.

  • In countries such as France, Spain and the USA, intensifying the speed of existing tire removal programs should help,

  • And where tire dumping is still occurring, inform your local authorities about their negative impact and their proven failure to provide habitat for corals and fishes.

Surely something can be done to correct what no long is expedient or beneficial. Surely we can devote some resources toward recovering toxic tires, and restoring the sea and ocean beds with reefs that actually work.

Letís team up to make it happen.

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