France goes into reverse on sinking tires for creation of artificial reefs

By Sandra Ferrer, AFP

BREST, France–Tourists and film stars hitting the beach at the French Riviera resort of Cannes may be blissfully unaware but lurking beneath the sparkling waves are tens of thousands of now troublesome scrap tires, sunk deliberately to boost marine development. Back in the 1960s, it seemed like the ultimate win-win idea: sink tires into the sea and create artificial reefs, stimulate marine life, help the fishing industry and get rid of unwanted scrap in one fell swoop. But decades later and after millions of tires have been sent to the deep, authorities worried about pollution are starting to reverse the trend and haul the tires back. On the French Riviera coast, authorities have just started an operation to remove around 2,000 tires, a pilot scheme that could be extended to reclaim all 25,000 tires under the sea between Cannes and Antibes, another posh resort, next year. France was by no means alone in thinking this was a good idea. According to scientists, around 200 artificial reefs made of tires are in existence worldwide, notably in waters off the United States, Japan, Malaysia and Israel. The problem has been that the tires have been dragged around by the currents and in many cases broken up, damaging the ecosystem and failing to attract the marine life expected. ��If colonization never took place, it’s because the used tires are covered with hydrocarbons. When they break up over time, they release heavy metals into the environment that are toxic for marine life,�� said Jacky Bonnemains, from the Robin Hood environmental pressure group. The French agency in charge of protecting marine areas, based in the port of Brest in the northwest Brittany region, aims to ��restore�� the habitat by removing the tires. It stresses, however, that when they were sunk, they were thought to be ��completely inert�� and present no possible danger for the environment. Unfortunately, in addition to the environmental impact, the hoped-for results in terms of sparking marine life also failed to materialize. Tire reefs were 40 percent less efficient in terms of colonization than similar concrete artificial reefs, said the agency. ‘Serious’ Threat in Florida

Creating artificial reefs is nothing new �X even 3,000 years ago, the ancients were dropping rocks into the sea to attract fish. And France is by no means the world leader in the activity. There are an estimated 90,000 m3 �X about the size of an ocean-going cargo ship �X of artificial reefs made of tires in France compared to around 20 million in Japan.