The incredible initiative is being spearheaded by the California Coastal Commission and University of California, Davis.

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
October 23, 2017
Courtesy California Coastal Commission/UC Davis

Until recently, divers at Newport Beach, California, likely noticed an odd spectacle of 1,500 old tires and a dizzying tangle of plastic. The decrepit site was actually the idea of the now deceased Rodolphe Streichenberger, president of the Marine Forests Society, a group that is no longer active. In 1988, Streichenberger created this controversial artificial reef that he believed would help the marine ecosystem, grow mussels for commercial sale, and lead to other benefits for the ocean.

Of course, Streichenberger’s research proved to be incredibly misguided. While we now know of the horrible effects plastic has on the ocean and marine life, the implications of his actions weren’t fully known at the time. “[Streichenberger] failed to ensure the protection of the marine environment and without the necessary permits, built the 10-acre project with 1,500 half-buried tires, 2,000 plastic jugs and 100 20-foot PVC pipes along the ocean floor,” explained a press release from the California Coastal Commission issued on Wednesday, October 18th. “State scientists said the tires contained harmful toxins, the material was not dense enough to anchor to the ocean floor and warned the discarded netting and ropes could trap fish and marine mammals.”

Now, nearly 30 years after its initial creation, the California Coastal Commission is working hard to dismantle the dump. In partnership with the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, divers began removing tires from the water the week of October 9th. The team averaged more than 100 tires a day. Currently, some more tires remain underwater, with plans to remove them in the works.

California Coastal Commission / UC Davis

"It’s about time this was cleaned up. Dumping plastic and other trash into our oceans is not the way to restore the marine ecosystem,” said California Coastal Commission Chair Dayna Bochco in the same press release. “There is an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic that enters the world’s oceans every year and we must do what we can to clean this up.”

Indeed, the site is a far cry from the kelp forests Streichenberger envisioned. Instead, the California Coastal Commission found that the tires were enveloped in the “type of marine life commonly found on pier pilings and boat bottoms.” Additionally, the ocean’s currents had spread the jumble of PVC pipes, netting, and concrete slabs arbitrarily around the ocean floor.“There’s no native kelp, just a few fish swimming around,” read a statement from Kirsten Gilardi, assistant director at the Wildlife Health Center at UC Davis. “It’s nothing like the diversity and density you’d see on a natural rocky reef off the Southern California coast.”

As the team wraps up the project and plans next steps, here are 10 things you can do to help the ocean right now.