NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Tires, Marine Debris, and Dengue Fever

2 Comments

Today’s guest blogger, Doug Helton, personally owns 12 tires, spread out over two cars and a bike. He appreciates the economy-sized salty snacks available at Cost-U-Less.


One of the most common marine debris items noted in the American Samoa surveys thus far has been used automotive tires. Over 60 tires have been recovered. At an average weight of 33 pounds each, that is about 2000 pounds. And there are a lot still out on the reef. Just how many is still being calculated.

So why are there so many tires, and what problems do these tires cause? There are a lot of reasons why tires are so common. First of all, we use a lot of tires in the U.S. According to greenlivingtips.com, about 300 million tires are scrapped or dumped each year. Dealing with all of those tires is a big problem, and even harder for island communities that lack the recycling infrastructure that exists on the mainland. Even on the mainland, a large percentage of tires end up in landfills, or dumped illegally.

Tires washed up on a beach in American Samoa.

Given that we are working to remove tires from the marine environment, it is hard to believe that until recently tires were often used to build artificial reefs. One reef in Broward County, Florida, had over a million tires. Storms and ocean currents subsequently caused the break-up of the tire “reef,” allowing the tires to move freely. NOAA worked with state and county agencies to determine disposal options, and these tire reefs are now being removed. (You can read more here.) The mobile tires in Florida began to smother and abrade the natural reefs. We have the same concern here from tires rolling around on the corals.

Tire reef in Broward County, Florida, broke up and threatened
coral reefs. (Photo courtesy Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection)

Here in Samoa, used tires are commonly used as planters, or painted and used to mark boundaries and parking areas along the roads. Many of these were picked up by the waves and swept out onto the reefs.

Tires used as planters in public park in Tafuna, American Samoa.

Even before the tsunami, abandoned tires were a problem in Samoa. Tires left in the open collect rainwater and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. During March of this year, territorial agencies sponsored a free disposal program to encourage residents to take their discarded tires to the landfill to help reduce the spread of dengue fever and beautify the environment. Dengue is a viral disease carried by mosquitoes that breed in water-holding containers and old tires have become common breeding grounds for the mosquito species Aedes aegypti and Aedes polynesiensis – the major carriers of dengue in the territory.

Mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) carry dengue fever and
breed in water that collects in tires.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

2 thoughts on “Tires, Marine Debris, and Dengue Fever

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