Wandering Tires and Robins
Last week I complained about the total lack of anything
interesting on the beach during my early morning walks here on
Marco Island. The beach must have been offended. The day
after posting that column, I found more sand dollars on the beach
than I’ve ever seen. I could have easily picked up 50, maybe
even 75 perfectly intact dollars. For the next three days I opted
to forego the beach walks due to the cold, windy and/or rainy
conditions outside. However, I vowed that on Monday I would
venture out regardless of weather.
It was a cloudless morning and our outside thermometer read 48
degrees Fahrenheit at 5:45 AM. I opted for a bit more shuteye to
let it warm up but at 6:30 AM the temperature had fallen to 47!
Sticking to my vow, I put on undershirt, knit shirt, sweatshirt and
a jacket I wear when it’s in the 40s at home. With the “breezy”
conditions, it was cold! The walk was worth the pain however.
The beach was more like the Marco I love, completely different
from when I left it last week. Gone was the beach covered with
red algae, only a few wisps of the stuff left. And I saw perhaps
the largest starfish I had seen in my years on Marco. It was a
perfect 9-armed critter that I would estimate at a foot and a half
in diameter. There were also a few interesting shells and a
couple of small horseshoe crabs.
I also noticed 3 tires on the beach and wondered how they got
there – did they wash up from the Gulf or did someone bring
them there? When I got back from my walk that morning, an
article in the January 19 Naples Daily News may have supplied
the answer. The article, by Brian Skoloff, was headlined
“Artificial tire reef now an ecological disaster” and was filed
from Fort Lauderdale. In the past, I’ve written of various well-
intentioned efforts to do good by the environment, only to find
that the efforts either failed to accomplish their objectives or
ended up harming, not helping the environment. This appears to
have been one such effort.
Much has been written about the dying off of coral reefs and of
the decline in marine life and habitat. Fairly recently, I read
about a ship being sunk somewhere off one of our coasts in the
expectation that it would form an artificial reef that would
eventually be teeming with fish and other sea creatures. Sunken
ships do provide good digs for marine life. Back in 1972, a
different approach was tried about a mile off the shores of Fort
Lauderdale. The intent was to create what was envisioned as the
world’s largest artificial reef. Instead of sinking ships, the idea
was to dump tires on the sea bottom. Not only would this help
the ecology of the sea but it would also help solve the problem of
huge numbers of tires piling up in landfills.
The idea was tried not only here in Florida at Fort Lauderdale but
also by other states, including Virginia and my own state of New
Jersey. The tire reef idea was enthusiastically endorsed on a
global basis. For example, Indonesia and Malaysia engaged in
huge tire dumping programs. In the Fort Lauderdale endeavor,
tires were tied in bundles with ropes of nylon and steel. All in
all, there are millions of tires under the waters around the world.
If I interpret the newspaper article correctly, there may be up to 2
million tires in the waters off Fort Lauderdale.
What went wrong? If you sink a battleship, you can count on it
staying where you sank it. A tire, on the other hand, is a good bit
lighter than a ship. If the ropes or cables binding the tires
together break, off go the tires, which is what has happened when
storms or strong ocean currents break apart the tire reefs. In
1998, Virginia’s coast got clobbered by Hurricane Bonnie and
lots of Virginia’s tires ended up on the beaches of North
Carolina. Last year, volunteers for an organization known as the
Ocean Conservancy picked up over 11,000 tires from beaches
around the world in its annual coastal cleanup.
Perhaps, the beach littering would be worth it if the tire reefs
performed as expected. They have not. Instead of promoting
coral growth they’ve been killing it by breaking loose and piling
up against natural reefs. Because of their lightness and tendency
to wander, they don’t stay put long enough for marine life to
stick and flourish. It was a bad idea. In Florida, the new
governor’s budget includes $2 million to assist in disposing of
the Fort Lauderdale tires, which will be used in road projects and
for fuel. How do you pick up those tires from the sea bottom?
The military plans to use the tires to train its Army and Navy
salvage divers at no cost to Florida, according to the article. I
expect that we taxpayers will help pay for picking up those tires.
Tires aren’t the only things fouling things up in Florida. In
another article in the same Naples paper, Julia Ochoa complains
about “feathered carpet bombers” from up north, some of which
may have come down here from New Jersey. The complaint is
about a “barrage of robin droppings” that Ochoa says has been
raining down on Southwest Florida this past week. I found it
strange that a bird that we consider in Jersey to be a welcome
harbinger of spring should be thought of as a pest down here.
With the bitter cold weather up North this month, you can hardly
blame the robins for scooting down to somewhat warmer Florida.
Aside from the distaste for robin droppings, there is an ecological
concern. The robins like to eat the red berries of an invasive
plant that first came to Florida in the 1800s, the Brazilian pepper
tree. The birds go for the berries even though, except for a hard
coating that’s removed in the bird’s digestive track, the berries
pass through untouched. Perhaps the birds enjoy the bit of
alcohol in berries as they age on the tree.
With the robins depositing the seeds along with a natural supply
of fertilizer, the pepper trees spread quickly. The robins and
other seed-spreading birds like to sit on power lines and as a
result the peppers flourish along Florida’s roadways. The pepper
trees tend to dominate other plant species, having no natural
enemies in the insect or plant world. On Sanibel Island an
invasive species strike team wages a constant battle against the
pepper tree in Sanibel’s Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Anyway, the robin does have another favorite food down here –
seeds from the Sabal, or cabbage palm, the state tree of Florida.
Floridians certainly can’t complain when our harbinger of spring
helps to spread the state tree.
One last beach note. This morning I found the beach to be
another completely different beach, loaded with interesting shells
and hundreds of conches emerging from the sand. There were
also lots of sea urchins, the first I’ve seen this year. The red
algae have reappeared most of it concentrated in a huge carpet on
the beach in front of the Marriott Hotel. It must be spring break.
There was a distressingly large number of beer cans and bottles
on the algae carpet. Bud Light in cans and Corona in bottles
seemed the favorite choices of the current Marriott clientele.
Finally, a hearty welcome back from Morocco to our peripatetic
Editor. After posting this column, I find that he has a brief
mention of the tire reef story in last week''s Bar Chat - my
apology for not reading it sooner!
Allen F. Bortrum