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Cocos Lagoon Tire Reef Removal Project

In October 2018, biologists from Guam EPA’s Environmental Monitoring & Analytical Services performed exploratory dives at the site of the Cocos Lagoon artificial Tire Reef in Merizo. The tire reef installed in the 1970s will be removed in July 2021.

Merizo, the southernmost village on Guam has a storied history, rich with nuances of beauty, history and tradition. Geological features in the village are paralleled by few other villages as mountains, rivers, and shorelines adorn its landscape. Today, Merizo features influences that span to the Spanish colonialism that are still present today, as historical landmarks like the Malesso’ Kombento and the Kampanayun Malesso’ continue to serve as reminders of the village’s past. Merizo has known the atrocities of war as the massacres at Tinta and Faha are commemorated every year. Tradition continues to be heralded in Merizo, especially with the relationship that villagers have with the ocean. In fact, Merizo hosts an annual event known as Malesso’ Fiestan Tasi, or Merizo Festival of the Sea, as a way of celebrating the ocean as part of our culture. During this festival, thousands gather in Merizo to take pleasure in water races, a fishing derby and great southern hospitality.

Fishing has always been a part of Merizo’s tradition. Waters surrounding the village have provided nourishment for all of the community for centuries. However, amidst Merizo’s beauty, history, and tradition exists an anthropogenic pollutant in the form of an artificial reef in the Cocos Lagoon. This reef is composed of over 2,000 used tires and was installed over 50 years ago in an attempt to repurpose used tires and increase fish stocks at two different areas within the lagoon. However, after four years of close monitoring, scientists decided to discontinue the project since it did not demonstrably improve fish stocks as intended. 

Cocos Lagoon is the island’s only shallow water atoll-like lagoon covering an area of more than 10km² (3.9 sq. mi). The lagoon houses significant marine resources and remains an important recreational and subsistence fishing area, as well as a popular area for numerous tourism operations. Cocos Lagoon also provides important habitats for a few Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed species, such as the green and hawksbill sea turtles, and is a NOAA Habitat Focus Area Site and Coral Reef Conservation Program priority.

In 2019, the Guam Environmental Protection Agency in partnership with the Guam Department of Agriculture, Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources was awarded a NOAA Marine Debris Program removal grant to remove the artificial reef in Cocos Lagoon. As the procurement process was in motion, the Agency prepared the tires for removal by transplanting the precious corals to other areas in the lagoon where they could continue to thrive. Transplanting the coral would also help to control costs so that the award would ensure adequate funding for the actual tire reef removal. The removal and disposal of this artificial tire reef in Cocos Lagoon provides an important step toward preventing any further damage to surrounding marine habitats in the lagoon

In March 2021, Unitek Environmental Guam was issued a notice to proceed with the removal of the tire reef and expects to start the removal in July 2021.

Additional Resources

Click HERE for the Official Guam EPA Press Release – March 29, 2021

Click HERE for Project Site Map

Click HERE for Project Summary – as submitted to NOAA on October 28, 2018

Click HERE for NOAA Marine Debris Blog Entry – February 13, 2020

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