Diving For Tires Off The South Florida Coast
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MIAMI (CBS4) – Hannes Bend is not a scuba diver, or even a good swimmer. But for some reason, he just can’t seem to stay out of the ocean.
The 31-year old artist risked his life not once, but twice a few weeks ago, trying to pull old tires out of the ocean.
“Are you a strong swimmer?” asked CBS4’s David Sutta of Bend.
“Actually no,” Bend replied with laughter.
On his last jump in, he actually had to be saved by a rescue diver.
“It was pretty embarrassing,” declared Bend.
This team of divers and volunteers, grunted as they pulled up tires. Their goal is make the tires part of an art project bend dreamed up a few months ago, to reveal a secret buried off our coastline four decades ago.
“This environmental disaster took place actually about a mile off of Fort Lauderdale Beach. It’s beautiful out here. Pristine. You wouldn’t know anything is wrong unless you went 70 feet below,” Sutta said just before he dived into the ocean himself.
Within seconds of hitting the water and sinking… you see it… a handful of tires… whitewalls that build and build until eventually filling the horizon as far as the eye can see. Experts estimate this tire cemetery is about 30 football fields wide.
“In the late 60’s, early 70’s they discovered that tires were actually good for growing coral (BUTT) So they bundled them up and sunk em. That bundle had a metal clip. In two to three years that clip disappeared, the tires were free and now there is just an empty field of tires. One point five million to two million. Nobody can even count them,” said Matt Hoelscher.
Most tires don’t stay still long enough for coral to grow. Occasionally they wash up on our shoreline following major storms. But more often than not, they just roll around… out of sight.
“They are all over our reefs,” said Hoelscher. “These tires are making a big mess now.”
“I had spoken to a lot of people in South Florida. Maybe half of them knew about it,” Bend told Sutta. “Mainly older people. But the younger generation didn’t know about this.”
And so Bend, an artist visiting from Germany took it upon himself to clean up our mess the best way he knew how…. through art.
“We are going to have teams of two people bundling tires,” said Bend.
On a Friday morning, two dozen volunteers gathered to dig up old tires.
“With two dives I’m hoping we can get about 300 tires,” said a diver.
And then they bring them to the surface to recreate an above ground art installation of awareness for land lubbers.
“It’s doable and it’s doable to create exposure,” declared Bend.
They quickly discovered that tires weigh a measly three pounds underwater… but above water… it is more like 25 pounds. They had their work cut out.
After hours of struggling and bending, jumping in to rescue sinking tires, they managed to round up 80 tires.
Back at the dock, Bend admired his treasure.
“Hold old are you?” Sutta asked Bend.
“31-years old,” he replied.
“So the tires you are looking at are actually older than you,” noted Sutta.
“Actually older than me,” said Bend. “That’s very interesting to see how nature took over within the past decade and what’s happening to them.”
A week later Bend opened up his exhibit in Wynwood… recreating the ocean floor.
“This gives everyone a really good impression of what is going on there even though you are not in the water. This is almost like being in the water and then seeing the footage. You really get a strong emotional feeling to it” Bend insisted.
The tires date as far back as the 1940’s. Bend hops the out of water experience stirs action.
“I think it gives people a chance to see art in a different way and experience something through art that might lead to something else,” Bend said.
Truly where the rubber meets the road, or in this case, the water.
“Where the rubber meets the road?” Bend asked.
While that phrase may be lost in translation to a German artist…. the message he’s sending is universal.
“It’s our planet,” declared Bend.
According to Sutta, there have been several attempts over the years to pull these tires up. But the sheer numbers has made it very difficult. Bend has hope though. His exhibit called “THE ECLIPSE” runs through May in Wynwood.