Photo by John Schreiber.

Workers this week are pulling up and hauling away an estimated 1,000 tires that were dropped into the ocean off Newport Beach in the late 1980s, a hotly contested artificial reef experiment between the Newport Harbor entrance and the Balboa Pier.

The reef, the brainchild of Rodolphe Streichenberger, comprised 1,500 used tires overall, as well as 2,0000 plastic jugs and 100 20-foot PVC pipes along 10 acres of ocean floor, the Orange County Register reported. Streichenberger envisioned a place where the reef would grow mussels on the recycled tires for commercial harvest, kelp would flourish, wildlife would flock to the area, and anglers would have a new hot spot for their catch.

The California Coastal Commission, which opposed the project but failed in its attempt to get Streichenberger to remove the artificial reef, is spearheading the dismantling of the reef, arguing that it’s just trash wasting away in the ocean and causing more harm than good, according to the Register.

“There’s an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic that enters the world’s oceans every year. It’s poison in the ocean,” said California Coastal Commission Public Information Officer Noaki Schwartz. “It gets into the food chain … it’s critical we do what we can to get this out.”

The Coastal Commission negotiated the cleanup with the Wildlife Health Center School at the University of California, Davis. Kirsten Gilardi, assistant director at the school, said it was time to remove the controversial experiment based on studies over the years.

“There’s no native kelp, just a few fish swimming around,” she said in a statement. “It’s nothing like the diversity and density you’d see on a natural rocky reef off the Southern California coast.”

Steichenberger, a Newport Beach resident originally from France, who was president of the now-defunct Marine Forests Society, died in 2006. It has taken more than a decade to find funding for the cleanup, and still the commission doesn’t know how much the project will cost. It’s using negotiated mitigation fees secured earlier this year as part of a permit to install underwater fiber-optic cables off Hermosa Beach to fund the cleanup, the Register reported.

The work started last week as divers began pulling tires out of the water and onto a commercial urchin fishing boat, averaging more than 100 tires a day, according to the newspaper.

 

—City News Service

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