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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Osborne Reef of Fort Lauderdale sounds a little more picturesque than it actually looks. Osborne Reef is actually a manmade reef - or at least an attempt to make one. It's an underwater, 36-acre pile of two million tires. In the 1970s, the tires were placed offshore in the hopes that they would serve as well as sunken steel hold ships, old military aircraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles. There actually are artificial reefs made of all those things.
But the tires just don't work. And Broward County and the State of Florida are trying to remove them now. William Nuckols is project coordinator and military liaison for Coastal America, which is an organization of government agency and private groups.
So, you're involved in this effort, what's the problems with the tires?
Mr. WILLIAM NUCKOLS (Coastal America): Well, unlike those other purposes that you mentioned where we're using old ships and other debris that we put in the ocean, the things grow on them that actually attract fish and become good habitat for them. In this case, they're actually destroying the natural habitat that's nearby. When storms come along and pick up the tires as they move ashore, they actually crash into the reefs and actually kill the living corals that are on the area nearby.
SIEGEL: So, the intent back in the 1970s was actually to create something that would attract marine life, or was it simply to dispose of some tires?
Mr. NUCKOLS: No, it went in with good intentions. They actually went there to actually create more marine habitat, but it didn't work out that way.
SIEGEL: Back in the '70s, how were the tires supposed to stay put?
Mr. NUCKOLS: The original tires - some were put down used as individuals - the bulk of them are put down in bundles. And they're bundled together with steel bands. I wasn't around during that time and I can't answer with sensible responses to why somebody thought you could put a steel band around something, put it in salt water and not have it fall apart.
SIEGEL: But it did?
Mr. NUCKOLS: They definitely.
SIEGEL: I read that there was a pilot project, a few years ago, to remove tires. And about 150 tires came out. And they came out at the cost of about $17 per tire removed. That is pretty pricey.
Mr. NUCKOLS: Yeah, the lesson learned from that is that economy of scale is really important when you're trying to deal with a problem that maybe in a couple million tires in size. The early project was done with university students and some people out of Nova Southeastern University. In this case, on the marine clean up side, we wanted to get the Navy salvage divers involved.
SIEGEL: How many Navy salvage divers will be going down to get the tires out of the water off Fort Lauderdale?
Mr. NUCKOLS: They work in teams of approximately 20 divers at a shot, working over the course of several years.
SIEGEL: I saw a photograph of this. And it's unclear from the photograph whether there is any marine life growing on the tires or not.
Mr. NUCKOLS: In a very small number of the overall tire field, there are some tires that sit in the (unintelligible) shadow of one of the reefs to where they don't move around very often. And those do have some corals that are growing on them.
SIEGEL: And part of the problem here is a rolling tire gathers no corals. Were they moving around?
Mr. NUCKOLS: Correct. Or the young corals that do settle on them and get a start in life will actually die once a hurricane comes through. And those will get knocked off and killed.
SIEGEL: If an artificial reef works, it should be of some benefit also to people who fish, and divers will see something interesting. Not in this case.
Mr. NUCKOLS: No, not in this case. It's amazing. But when we did the reconnaissance dives, it was a beautiful day with at least 70 feet of clear, blue water visibility. And for as far as the eye can see, it's nothing but a sea of tires. Occasionally, you'd see a fish swimming by. But it's in between two natural reefs. And those guys are really on their way from point A to point B. They weren't stopping to hang around on the tire field. They were on their way to someplace interesting to be.
SIEGEL: Just a lot of tires. Well, William Nuckols, thank you very much for talking with us about this.
Mr. NUCKOLS: Thank you.
SIEGEL: William Nuckols is project coordinator and military liaison for Coastal America. He was talking about plans to remove tires from Osborne Reef, off Fort Lauderdale. He says it'll take about three years to finish the job.