Tyre reef is 'an ecological disaster'

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An artificial reef formed of old tires off the Florida coast has been branded as an ecological disaster.

Approximately two million tires had been placed on the ocean floor near Fort Lauderdale beach in the hope of creating an artificial reef, which would provide habitats for native marine life.

However, chemicals released by the tires have actually led to it having the opposite effect " creating a ~dead zone that is now inhibiting coral growth on the surrounding natural reefs.

Diving operations are now in place to remove 700,000 of the tires, and should be completed by the year 2010.

Military clean-upUS Army and Navy divers, who are using the operation as a training exercise, are currently in the process of removing tires from the reef that have become loose.

The tires had originally been placed on the ocean floor bound by nylon and steel " however, some of these bundles have since burst.

Over time, the loose tires have been spread across the ocean floor " with many resting on the surrounding natural coral reefs.

William Nuckols, who is co-ordinating the clean-up, said that the tires are "a constantly killing coral-destruction machine". It is reported that acres of coral could be destroyed if the tires are not removed.

Therefore, in a remarkable u-turn, a project that started in the creation of an artificial reef has turned into one that is trying to save the natural reefs that remain.

The operation, which for now will only remove the 700,000 tires that have come loose, should be completed by 2010.

Good intentionsThe artificial reef project, which was begun in 1972 by a group called Broward Artificial Reef Inc., had appeared to be a good idea.

The world s largest artificial reef was to be created from old tires, which would otherwise have taken up valuable space in landfill sites.

It was intended to provide a large habitat for native marine species, and - being situated just a mile off Fort Lauderdale beach - could provide opportunities for divers. So it could have potentially boosted tourism, provided vital habitats, and have alleviated the pressure on landfill sites.

The tires removed from the reef will be burned as an energy source for a paper recycling plant in Georgia.