Sunday, February 18, 2007

Colossal artificial reef blunder

The road to ocean ruin can be paved with good intentions. What do you think about a project that is supposed to create ocean habitat and get rid of unwanted garbage?

Here's an example of a colossal blunder that's costing big money to undo.
About 2 million tires were dumped into the ocean off Fort Lauderdale to create artificial reefs, and now there is a $2 million budget to clean up the mess.

The tires have turned out to be a terrible nuisance, washing up on beaches and destroying natural reef habitat as they churn around in currents and tides.

According to project proponent Ray McAllister, a professor of ocean engineering at Florida Atlantic University, "The really good idea was to provide habitat for marine critters so we could double or triple marine life in the area. It just didn't work that way. I look back now and see it was a bad idea."

Excuse me, but blogfish is amazed that anybody really believed it was a good idea to dump garbage in the ocean. Of course, we've only learned part of the lesson. Now that we know tires are a bad idea, we've moved on to mothballed warships, subway cars, and human remains cast into "reef balls."

Great ideas, good intentions, big mistakes.


Yellowstoner said...


Have you seen the current California Sea Grant Study about the value, (or detriments,) of mature artificial reefs?

The old railroad, and electric streetcars were dumped in 1958. A bit different than tires.


Tim Adams said...

The artificial reefs question is not completely clear, Mark.

The theory behind artificial reef emplacement (as I understand it) is that, because the recruitment of many marine organisms is limited by the availability of places for juveniles to settle and hide rather than the availability of eggs and larvae, then it could be extremely beneficial to baby critters to provide complex features in otherwise barren areas.

It should, in theory, massively boost the survivability of juveniles of many demersal or sedentary species.

That is the theory, but as the reference given by Yellowstoner above points out: "Despite all the (artificial) reef studies over the last four decades, nobody has been able to answer the age-old question: Do the reefs actually increase fish populations or merely congregate fish?".

Because this question has not been answered yet, because there were few baseline studies done before artificial reefs were constructed/dumped in different places (including the Pacific Islands - I heard of quite a few tires going into Suva harbour in the 1970s for example) we always advise against it. When thinking about experimenting with altering a little-known environment it is best to err on the side of caution.

However, although it may seem like a no-brainer to not "dump garbage" on the seabed, some of this may turn out to have some marine benefits at least - at least if the components are not allowed to swill around with the tide and if the material allows coral and other encrusting organisms to quickly grow on it etc.

Like I said, we don't encourage it because we don't know what it really happening, but this Sea Grant study may finally provide some evidence one way or the other ...

Mark Powell said...

Most artificial reefs are for fishing or diving, and the fish attracted may be extracted at high rates. Even if artificial reefs enhance fish production, the extra fishing mortality from attracting many fish and fishermen may cause a net loss of fish.

If the artificial reefs are really supposed to be good for fish, then let's make them no-fishing zones.