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Military halts its cleanup of failed artificial reef off Florida coast

February 15, 2010 | 12:00 pm

Divers pick up one of the old tires that were dumped in the ocean off of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. with the intent of creating an artificial reef.

U.S. military divers who have been cleaning up a failed artificial reef made of tires off the Florida coast have been pulled off the project for the time being because crews are stretched too thin elsewhere, the Associated Press reports.

About 700,000 tires were sunk a mile off the coast of Fort Lauderdale in 1972 as a well-intentioned effort to create an artificial reef, beneficial to sea life as well as an attractant to divers.

Unfortunately, the reef never materialized. Little sea life formed, and some of the tires that were bundled together with nylon and steel cable broke loose and scattered across the ocean floor, damaging natural coral reefs.

The Army and Navy began cleaning up the ecological mess in 2007 as a training exercise for their divers, and at no cost to the state. The crews have been pulled off the project to help with efforts in Haiti as well as the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Unfortunately, they're not having a lot of time to train because they're committed, as the whole military is pretty well swamped," said David McGinnis, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for reserve affairs.

The soonest the cleanup effort may resume is 2012, McGinnis said, provided the current schedule holds for withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Divers pick up one of the old tires that was dumped in the ocean off of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with the intent of creating an artificial reef.  Credit: Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press

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