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WET & WILD : Grant Will Build Mussel in Used Tires

June 24, 1993|DAVID HALDANE | David Haldane is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition. and

Rodolphe Streichenberger has a radical plan to replenish marine life off Southern California. It involves hundreds of volunteer scuba divers and untold numbers of mussels. Oh, yes, and about 30,000 used tires.

"It's the best solution to recycling tires," says Streichenberger, a marine forester. "Better than sending them to landfills or incinerators."

Streichenberger, 64, is the founding director of an organization called the Marine Forests Society, based in Newport Beach. Its purpose: to demonstrate the feasibility of replenishing the ocean by creating underwater mussel reefs made out of long ribbons of used tires.

The project has already been given a $100,000 grant through a state program designed to encourage new ways of recycling the rubber road-huggers. Once the proper permits are acquired--possibly by August--local volunteer divers will create a 4 1/2-acre, 40-foot-deep reef near the Balboa Pier made of more than 30,000 tires.

While the money is intended to promote tire recycling, the main purpose of the reef will be to enhance and increase marine life in an area where it has been significantly depleted in recent years.

"Every fisherman has seen the disappearance of the fish because of overfishing and pollution," he says. Growing populations "have put terrible pressure on coastal waters wherein life in the sea begins."

The Marine Forests Society--which was founded in 1986 and which Streichenberger says has several hundred members--originally proposed enhancing local underwater life by planting new kelp beds on sandy bottoms from where the kelp had disappeared.

But that approach was rejected, Streichenberger says, because of unusually warm waters that make kelp growing very slow and because the plant could not be harvested in sufficient quantities to provide economic incentives for its planned growth.

By growing mussels, he says, marine ecologists eliminate both problems. While the mollusks provide food for numerous other types of marine life, they grow quickly and in great numbers themselves. And, the marine forester says, they can be harvested and sold profitably enough to encourage entrepreneurs to invest in their growth.

"There's a huge international market," Streichenberger says, "and it's very cheap to do. The economics of the idea is beautiful."

He decided to use tires, he says, because they provide excellent underwater shelter for mussels and are easy to get. And, he says, "we give another environmental help to (one of) the recycling problems of land."

After receiving the proper permits from the California Coastal Commission, he says, he and his volunteer divers will begin placing about 100 "ribbons" of tires strung together by rope in 40 feet of water off Balboa Pier. At the proper time, he says, the tires will be tied with "coconut lines"--special cords mixed with coconut fibers designed to attract mussel seeds.

Streichenberger expects the rubber reefs to be bulging with mussels by next summer, along with visible improvements in the number of fish in the area. The full impact of the new reef on marine life, he says, should be felt in about five years.

"Mussels play the role of a starter of life," he explained. "They can be an alternative to the famous kelp forests, which are the glory of the coastal waters much loved by divers and marine biologists. My fondest hope is that the mussel reefs become just as famous."

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Divers who want to volunteer for the project can call (714) 675-7729.

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