A mile offshore from this city's high-rise condos and spring-break bars lie as many as 2 million tires, strewn across the ocean floor — a white-walled, steel-belted monument to good intentions gone awry.
The tires were dropped there in 1972 to create an artificial reef intended to attract a rich variety of marine life and to free up space in clogged landfills. Decades later, the idea has proved a huge ecological blunder.
Very little sea life has formed on the tires. Some tires that were bundled together with nylon and steel have broken loose and are scouring the ocean floor across a swath the size of 31 football fields. Tires are washing up on beaches. Thousands have wedged up against a nearby natural reef, blocking coral growth and devastating marine life.
"The really good idea was to provide habitat for marine critters so we could double or triple marine life in the area. It just didn't work that way," said Ray McAllister, a professor of ocean engineering at Florida Atlantic University who was instrumental in organizing the project. "I look back now and see it was a bad idea."
I have to give Professor McAllister credit. There are many academics who would have just pretended that their earlier concepts were still right, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Many would try to shift the blame to those who did the actual work or to who donated the tires, etc. Professor McAllister is not too prideful to say "My bad."
The scope of the error, which was not Prof. McAllister's alone obviously (there seems to have been a scientific consensus that this was a good idea), is mind blowing:
In fact, similar problems have been reported at tire reefs worldwide.
"They're a constantly killing, coral-destruction machine," said William Nuckols, coordinator for Coastal America, a federal group involved in organizing a cleanup effort that includes Broward County biologists, state scientists and Army and Navy salvage divers.
So these tires, which scientists predicted would foster ocean life, didn't do anything of the kind. In fact, these tires not only didn't foster ocean life they positively destroyed it.
"We've literally dumped millions of tires in our oceans," said Jack Sobel, an Ocean Conservancy scientist. "I believe that people who were behind the artificial tire reef promotions actually were well-intentioned and thought they were doing the right thing. In hindsight, we now realize that we made a mistake."
Science can be a very humbling discipline. It is supposed to be. This experience should act as a cautionary tale for those in other scientific research areas, such as climate change, who are convinced that they know exactly what should be done and precisely what the effects will be. If the history of scientific discovery is any guide they should realize that they more than liekly have something wrong, perhaps catastrophically wrong.
Unfortunately the CC crowd seems more intent on lecturing others with cautionary tales, instead of learning from them.