A toxic reef – made from tens of thousands of old car tyres – is being removed from the seafloor along France’s Mediterranean coast after it was discovered that noxious chemicals, including potentially lethal heavy metals, were leaking into the surrounding waters.
Teams of divers are removing the artificial reef with the help of lifting equipment fitted aboard a support vessel.
The reef was created in the 1980s when local authorities agreed to sink over 25,000 tyres in the Mediterranean Sea, some 500 metres from the shore, between Cannes and Antibes along the French Riviera.
In 2005 researchers discovered that the tyres were leaking chemicals into the environment in the French Riviera, and a large portion of the reef was removed in 2015. 10,000 more tyres are due to be removed over the coming weeks and months.
At the time of sinking the operation was believed to solve two problems: the disposal of masses of tyres and the creation of marine habitats. In 2015 authorities said that, at the time of their sinking, the tyres were believed to be “completely inert” and pose no risk.
Numerous species of fish have been avoiding the area with the tyres, with local fishing association leader Denis Genovese revealing to AFP news agency that although a few kinds of fish swarmed the area, “no species really got used to it”.
As well as the impact to nearby marine life, tyre stacks have been known to collapse and move during storms – which can be damaging to the natural habitats and life. The natural current also carries some tyres to new locations, and after time certain tyres even disintegrate, compounding the chemical leak issue.
The mission to remove the toxic reef is set to cost more than €1 million, and will be funded by the French government as well as the tyres’ manufacturer Michelin.
It is estimated that 200 similar reefs exist worldwide, with millions of tyres assembled in reefs off of the coasts of Japan and the USA. In the 1970s two million tyres were dumped into the waters around Florida after tyre giant Goodyear suggested that it could be useful to fisherman as a way to stimulate fish populations.
Florida began the mammoth task of removing the tyres in 2007 after it was found that not only were they harmful to the surrounding sea life, they were also damaging natural coral reefs.