Osborne Reef: A Failed Artificial Reef of Discarded Tires

Sep 5, 2014 5 comments

About 7,000 feet offshore of Sunrise Boulevard off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, lies an underwater wasteland of rotting tires. This is Osborne Reef, an underwater cemetery of 2 million tires that were placed there in the 1970s as a part of a failed ecological operation to create an artificial reef. Over the years, many of the tires were dislodged by tropical storms and hurricanes and caused damage to nearby existing coral reefs. Forty years later, the tires are still there causing more harm than good in the coastal Florida waters.

Osborn Reef was the brainchild of a non-profit group called Broward Artificial Reef, or BARINC, composed of a group of fishermen, back in the spring of 1972. The idea was to create a reef using old tires that were piling up around the county's landfills and rural areas. This was before recycling caught on. They were convinced that corals would attach and grow on the tires and provide additional habitat for marine life. It was a well intentioned but not a particularly well thought out plan.


Photo credit: Mikkel Pitzner, Project Baseline Gulfstream

With the support of US Army Corps of Engineers and more than 100 privately owned vessels, placement of the tires began over 36 acres of the ocean floor, 7,000 feet offshore in 65 feet of water. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company provided equipment for the auspicious undertaking, even supporting the project so far as to drop a gold-painted tire to christen the site. The tires were bundled together with steel clips and nylon rope and lowered onto the sea floor. However, the saline waters of the ocean quickly corroded these materials causing the tires to separate, and carried them away by ocean currents and waves. The tires, with their newfound mobility, not only destroyed any marine life that had thus far grown on the tires, it effectively prevented the growth of any new organisms. Besides, the loose tires scoured the ocean floor and damaged existing reefs in the area. Thousands of tires have been spotted and pulled from beaches as far north as North Carolina.

Since 2001, several organizations have attempted to undertake the removal of the tires, but the costs associated with such a project are staggering. In 2007, after several false starts, the United States military took active role using the cleanup process for diving and rescue training purposes, thus saving significant costs to the state. As of 2009, only 73,000 tires were retrieved. Out of the original 2 million, about 700,000 still rest off Fort Lauderdale's coast.

This project is not the only one of its kind. Similar reefs have been constructed in the Northeastern United States, the neighboring Gulf of Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Africa. These countries are now seeing the ramifications of tire reefs, from littered beaches to reef destruction. According to the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup, some 11,956 tires were removed from beaches all over the world.


Photo credit: Mikkel Pitzner, Project Baseline Gulfstream


Barge used to deploy discarded tires in building the Osborne Tire Reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale Florida. Photo credit


Tires bundled up before deployment. Photo credit


Photo credit: Mikkel Pitzner, Project Baseline Gulfstream


Photo credit: Mikkel Pitzner, Project Baseline Gulfstream


Photo credit: Mikkel Pitzner, Project Baseline Gulfstream


Members of the Blue Water Initiative, a South Florida based nonprofit marine conservation organization, poses with tires recovered from Florida waters. Photo credit

Sources: Wikipedia / Project Baseline / Sun Sentinel.


  1. No, Anonymous #1, these types of artificial reefs have been tried around the world...a fact pointed out in the article if you actually bothered to read it.

  2. A bad decision in the 1970's. Glad to see the state of Florida is admitting their mistake and doing something about it.

  3. This is one of those thing where they knew it was a bad idea they just needed a quick fix to get rid of the piles of tires. Some rich man pulled at his city counsel leaders and other government representatives to push this through. Knowing all in well tires are good for nothing. Only caring about his money and how much he would save by not having to properly dispose of the tires in a pricey landfill or other method. Just load it up and dump it. For 45 years those used tires have rubbed back and forth against the ocean floor destroying marine life and making marine life suffer. 1970 the already sent men to the moon and made plenty of scientific and technological advances. Students in high school were doing research projects etc. It was common knowledge that one does a sample test first before executing a dumping project into the Ocean waters on such a large scale. The main culpretes behind it the private business men that used there money and power to push the government officials looking for a hand out those bastards probably said we should have dumped it a few more miles out into the ocean. The sad fact is the general population that uses that waters and beaches had no idea. Upon seeing the barges of tires going out to sea the typical citizen probably thought they were shipping the tires to china or something.

  4. A vivid example of how nature pays the price for man's careless and thoughtless attitude toward nature


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