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Why are Tires Washing Up on Multiple East Coast Beaches?

Surfrider Foundation was surprised to see photos of tires washing up on not one, but a few East Coast beaches after some big storms moved through the region in mid December.

Both our Cape Fear, NC and Delaware Chapters were alerted to this strange phenomenon by local contacts, since Surfrider is known for our beach cleanups (Surfrider hosts about 1500 beach cleanups every year in the US!)

Crystal Stokowski, a volunteer with the Delaware Chapter, discovered the tires on the Southside of the Indian River Inlet on December 20th, which was just a couple days after the epic swells that hit the East Coast. “I immediately notified DNREC (Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control) & DSSP (Delaware Seashore State Park) about the dozens of tires washing ashore while continuing to roll and pile the deteriorating tires closer to the dune to keep them from going back into the ocean.”

The culprit (or multiple culprits most likely) was soon discovered: a wrong-headed decision to try old car tires as “artificial reefs” in the 1970s. Apparently multiple tire projects were installed to create habitat on the East Coast. 

Keni Rienks, Surfrider Cape Fear Chapter Chair and high school science teacher, is very familiar with this issue due to the content of the classes she teaches. “The first artificial reefs were planned, designed and constructed by local fishermen for recreational and commercial fishing. While the intent supported positive social and economic benefits to the local communities, the long-term environmental effects were, unfortunately, less considered.”

In NC, more than 1000 tires were found on Holden Beach in December, with tires also scattered across Wrightsville Beach, Emerald Isle, and Pine Knoll Shores. According to North Carolina Sea Grant, the State placed about 650,000 tires in offshore artificial reefs between 1975 and 1983. 

Surfrider recommends that states with these old tire structures go to the source and remove the artificial reefs for safety and environmental impact reasons, rather than wait for them to slowly wash up on beaches for decades to come.