New ideas and materials to create artificial reefs for the enhancement of fishing and diving are always being created. Tires were one of those materials. The project started in the 1970's offshore Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale by dumping bundles of tires, nearly two million, at a depth ranging from 60 to 70 feet for the purpose of creating habitat for fishing. Tires in the project site are estimated to cover more than 36 acres. At the time there was no knowledge that tires were an ineffective material for reef building and the reef has been deemed a failure. As a result, Broward County has been working with State and Federal agencies to remove this reef and restore the area to its natural state.
In June 2007, Broward County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and the U.S. military embarked on a project to remove tires from the site. Over the course of 3 years, military divers removed more than 70,000 tires (equivalent to 63 tractor-trailer loads).
This coral reef restoration project was unique in several ways. Each 2-man team of United States Army and Navy divers strung tires onto wire ropes which was then buoyed to the surface using 2-ton lift bags. The lift bags and tire bundles were then towed to a 175-foot Army ship termed a landing craft utility (LCU) where a crane was used to lift the bundles into open-top trailers on board the ship. Military personnel then removed the hardware and passed it out of the trailer to be used by other dive teams. Full trailers were regularly offloaded at Port Everglades and the FDEP managed recycling of the waste tires.
The Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division was the local partner providing project coordination and oversight. Port Everglades provided dockage and vessel support during the entire mission and the Parks and Recreation Division provided logistical support for the military equipment. While Broward County benefited from the military's efforts with a cleaner environment, the tire removal project also served as military training exercise through the Innovative Readiness Training Program.
In 2015, a marine contractor, under agreement with FDEP, began a commercial operation to remove more tires from the artificial reef. Although a much smaller operation in terms of scale, funding from the State, Broward County, and a grant from NOAA's Marine Debris Program, it is estimated that 100,000 tires would be removed over the course of a 2-year period. A 50-foot pontoon barge was equipped with a crane to hoist the tires bundled by a diver below. This technique proved to be successful in removing up to 550 tires per day. As with the previous projects involving the military, recovered tires are recycled as fuel in energy plants. This current project has the tires being transported to Polk County, FL to the Wheelabrator Ridge Energy Plant.
Thanks to the coordination of EPCRD, FDEP, and funding from the State the program was renewed for a few more years. As of the end of 2018 this program has removed about 275,000 tires from the reef. Efforts and new ideas will continue to be implemented to rectify this situation.