As a certified scuba diver, I read with interest news of a failed attempt to use old tires to create an artificial reef off the coast of Florida.

The 1972 project was then-sanctioned by the Army Corps of Engineers.

That little fact, in and of itself, caught my attention. Not too many years after that, when I was a TV news reporter in Atlanta, I watched the Army Corps of Engineers’ bungled attempt to turn an old tanker into an artificial reef off the coast of Savannah, Georgia.

They towed the tanker out to deep water, accompanied by a group of frolicking dolphins attracted to the wake of the boat. The plan was to use the discarded tanker to create a reef for the benefit of sport anglers.

The videographer and I were on a small boat taping as the project evolved, but really didn’t get any usable video. The Corps ( ) had overloaded the tanker with explosive. Not wanting to tow it back to port, they radioed our captain, who moved our boat back so far we could barely see – then went ahead and blew it up. To us it looked like one big puff of smoke – then nothing. Certainly no large pieces were left to sink to the bottom and, over time, become a reef. God only knows what happened to the poor dolphins.

Other Corps “projects” have included “channeling” rivers and streams in a misguided attempt to control flooding. Natural banks – held in place for centuries by the roots of trees – have been stripped, straightened, and lined with concrete. Current environmental thinking encourages the restoration of such tributaries to their “natural” flow. Maybe once-native fish will return to spawn when manmade structures like channeling and dams have been removed, the thinking goes. (That the Corps has also engaged in many worthwhile projects is a given.)

Natural reefs are in peril worldwide, according to the National Wildlife Federation ( due to rising temperatures and pollution. As a diver, I’ve personally observed the die-off of once healthy reefs. The result: dead coral. Few fish.

Tires are a petrochemical product. If you burn them, they turn to oil. Their smoke is full of carbon black, a suspected carcinogen. In landfills, tires do not readily degrade. Disposing of mountains of old tires remains a major problem nationwide. Keeping them out of landfills, while creating a reef, was, in 1972, a noble goal.

Unfortunately, storm tossed seas flung the tire reef around, and loose tires wedged in nearby natural reefs, killing off the coral. Now, the plan is to remove the loosened part of the tire reef – 700,000 tires in all.

Army, Navy and Coast Guard divers are bringing up the tires. Another 1.3 million tires, or thereabouts, will remain in place. The cleanup would have cost about $30-million if done commercially, officials say, but the military has volunteered its divers as a training exercise. Removed tires will be burned to power a Georgia paper plant. Unknown is whether residents nearby will get regular reports of air monitoring for detection of emissions from burning tires.

The state of Florida will contribute $2-million toward the clean up. Florida says it can’t afford to lose tourist dollars if more reefs are destroyed by tires.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her articles at and her blog at   


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