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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, December 9, 2004

Kane'ohe Bay coral relocated

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

KANE'OHE BAY — Army divers are relocating the equivalent of a quarter of an acre of coral heads blocking the channel to Coconut Island and giving new life to a dead reef sheared off more than 60 years ago.

Sgt. Alex Grabowski lifts a hunk of finger coral, weighing about 25 pounds, from the Coconut Island lagoon yesterday for transplanting.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Members of the 7th Engineer Dive Team, based at Fort Shafter Flats, began the work last week armed with pry bars and sledge hammers. They are providing a public service and using the underwater time for training, said Capt. Scott Miller yesterday aboard the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology's tug boat.

The divers chipped off finger and rice coral heads at the mouth of the North West Lagoon entrance to Coconut Island and moved them to a reef in the bay that was sheared in the 1940s by the military.

They plan to transplant thousands of pounds of coral heads in a 10,000-square-foot area, said the institute's Jim Lakey.

"We're transplanting coral because we need to clear the channel," Lakey said. "Within a month or two this will re-establish. This kind of work happens all over the world."

The dive team boat returned to the Coconut Island lagoon yesterday to load up on coral harvested by the divers for transplant.

The hunk of finger coral Sgt. Alex Grabowski lifted yesterday from the Coconut Island lagoon entrance, which is being cleared of obstruction, will later be placed about 30 feet deep in another area of the bay.
This is the first phase of an extended project that will start up again in February, Lakey said. The project involves the cooperation of the University of Hawai'i, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Army and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.

"The more coral we put here, the more it improves the health of the bay," Lakey said. "Dredging would be the wrong way to open the lagoon. It would kill the coral."

Regularly over the next five years, coral researchers will study how effective the relocation program is.

The institute, known for its coral research, is the only research center built on a coral reef in the world. Coconut Island's 28.8 acres include 6.15 acres of lagoon.

The reef that is getting the transplanted coral heads was sheared when a military plane crashed into it. The military ordered the coral cleared and it has never regrown, said Gordon Grau, a UH zoology professor and director of the university's Sea Grant College Program.

"We are able to re-establish the reef that was killed in the 1940s and clear the harbor," Grau said. "We plan to learn from this. It is a systemic restoration of individual coral heads transferred to a patch reef in a habitat known to thrive.

"It's a win-win situation."

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com or 395-8831.

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