Osborne Reef - A Failed Artificial Reef of Discarded Tires

Know how the human-made reef turned into a disaster.
Kashyap Vyas

The governments across the globe have been sinking large pieces of obsolete or damaged items like a subway car, naval ships, and even planes into the ocean for many years. These items later turn into artificial reefs that further rest on the seafloor while making homes for sea life.


Not only governments but, the artists too have been keeping them busy off lately by erecting sculptures and memorials underwater.

So, what is their purpose? Are these reefs environmentally-friendly or damaging marine life? Let's peep in to get more details.

What is an artificial reef and how is it useful?

Artificial Reef
Source: MusikAnimal/Wikimedia Commons

To define, a humanmade reef is nothing but a structure created by humans with a specific aim of supporting marine life.

As said above, some are humanmade items that have been sunk purposely - like construction debris and wrecks; whereas, others like reef balls were purposely built from concrete or PVC.

The usage of these reefs has evolved over time. Earlier, it was not built for marine life sustenance but for trapping enemy ships and thwarting Indian pirates. The Persians first built it with the intention of blocking the mouth of the Tigris River to prevent the entry of Indian pirates.

Similarly, the Romans too, built a reef across the mouth of the Carthaginian harbor in Sicily to trap the enemies during the First Punic War.

Later, i.e., around the 17th century, for the very first time, the reefs were built for the ecological purpose by Japan. In order to increase fish yields and promote algaculture, they began growing kelp using rocks and rubble.

Today, these reefs are the homes to the invertebrates like oysters and barnacles. Not only them but all the other species of fish who visit such areas in search of food use these reefs.

How are artificial reefs beneficial? Are they good for the environment?

Every coin has two sides, and it's the same with these reefs too. If well-designed and well-positioned, they can deliver outstanding fishing in places that didn't exist previously.

Not only this, but there are many benefits attached to them. Some of the significant ones include:

Restoring coral reef

* Improving marine life in a certain sea

* Getting rid of large objects that would otherwise be placed in landfills

* Attracting tourists

* Helping to rebuild the fish population, ultimately generating revenue through offshore fishing

Considering this, we can clearly say that they are environmentally-friendly. But, wait!

Before jumping on to the conclusion, there's something else which is important for you to know.

Artificial reefs definitely benefit the environment, given that they are being used carefully. The need for these reefs grew with the decline of the natural reefs on account of factors like pollution and climate change.

Thus, many resource managers have tried to boost coral growth by building artificial ones.

After all, it was assumed that the sinking materials into the ocean would further encourage coral growth by giving them more opportunities to settle. Over the course, these corals would grow; attract fish while creating a new healthy marine environment.

In short, doing so can increase the marine habitat, leading to escalated fishing and diving opportunities. If there are so many benefits, what do you think - can it harm the environment?

Let's find out!

How can these reefs impact the environment negatively?

Sometimes, the materials that people sink in the ocean are not only ineffective but also harmful. You never know that the planes, old ships or any other material may carry pollutants like fuel, asbestos, PCBs or floating debris.

These can pose a risk to the marine environment if not dealt with appropriately. Other times, the material itself can turn out to be a bad idea. And, the biggest example of this is Osborne Reef.

In the hopes of building a reef, roughly 2 million old tires were sunk off of Florida in the 1970s. But, nature had some other plans, and this ecological operation failed miserably.

The majority of the tires were dislodged due to hurricanes and tropical storms that hit the waters. This further damaged all the nearby coral reefs.

Even after so many years, these tires are still causing the damage in the coastal Florida waters.

Impact of Osborne reef - a failed ecological operation

A non-profit group - Broward Artificial Reef or BARINC planned to build Osborne Reef in the spring of 1972. As the old tires were piling up in the landfills and the trend of recycling them didn’t exist at that time, this group of fishermen thought to create a reef using them.

They thought that plan would not only clean the landfills but also provide additional habitat for marine life as the corals would attach and grow on the tires.

With this aim, they executed their plan accordingly while taking the assistance of the US Army Corps of Engineers and more than 100 privately owned vessels. The tires that were connected with one another with steel clips and nylon ropes were successfully placed over 36 acres of the ocean floor 7,000 feet offshore in 65 feet of water.

However, in no time, their environmentally-friendly idea began to work against them.

The saline waters corroded these materials leading the tires to separate from each other. They began getting carried away by the ocean waves and currents.


With the newly-found freedom to move anywhere, they literally started destroying the marine life that had already grown on the tires. Not only this, but the tires also prevented the growth of the new organisms.

That's not the end. As soon as they became loose, the tires rubbed the ocean floor that eventually damaged the existing reefs that rested around that area. As soon as the news of Osborne Reef began doing the rounds, several organizations attempted the removal of the tires.

But, the cost linked with this process was very overwhelming.

Finally, in 2007, the United States military took hold of this cleanup project which saved significant costs to the state. Still, as of 2015, the retrieved tires were only 73,000. Several hundred thousand of the estimated 2 million tires still rest in the coastal Florida waters.

The Osborne Reef Project from Scene Director on Vimeo.

The sad part is; this was not a one-of-a-kind project. The North-eastern United States, Gulf of Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and Africa too have constructed similar reefs and are now observing the consequences - from besieged beaches to reef destruction.

Thus, an artificial reef can be both, a boon or a curse - depending on how and what type of reef you build.

A good artificial reef will definitely turn out to be in favor of marine life

Building artificial reefs may be goal-oriented, but additionally, it should encourage coral recruitment and growth - attracting more number of fish. There are various organizations that are presently working on creating healthy humanmade reefs.