State environmental officials are undertaking a massive two-year project to remove 90,000 tires from the bottom of the ocean floor in Fort Lauderdale.
The failed 1970s tire reef project off Hugh Taylor Birch State Park was an attempt to dispose of tires in an environmentally friendly way. An estimated 700,000 tires were dropped into the ocean in hopes of attracting fish and providing a foundation for corals to grow. The project kicked off with great fanfare in 1972 when more than 100 boats full of tires were dumped into the water while the minesweeper USS Thrush looked on.
But few corals grew and, even worse, the tire bundles broke apart and drifted onto the natural reefs and kill coral. Now the lifeless vista of tires stretches across 35 acres.
"There are just tires for as far as you can see,'' said Pat Quinn, a biologist for Broward County who is serving as local project manager. "People who see it for the first time come to the surface and say, 'Oh, my God.'"
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection budgeted $1.6 million for the work and the Sun Sentinel reports divers started cleaning up the mess this past week. Military divers removed 72,000 tires several years ago, meaning half a million tires will still be left on the ocean floor after the project is completed.
Scuba divers, tethered to a barge, are removing the tires from a strip of ocean floor about 1,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, next to the edge of the middle reef.
"They're piled on top of each other up to five deep," Quinn said.
But some tires will stay for now because they would be extremely difficult to remove and may be crusted with marine life and would stir up silt as they came up. As for the loose ones, Quinn said, "We're going to evaluate our options."
Once retrieved, the tires are dropped off at Port Everglades where they travel by truck to the Tampa area to be burned for electricity.