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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, April 3, 2005

Coral shows life after first aid

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

The emergency reconstruction of the ocean floor off Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor, where the ship Cape Flattery ran aground in February, has gone smoothly —except for one incident in which a moray eel attacked a diver's hand.

Broken corals are cemented to the ocean floor where the Cape Flattery had been grounded off Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor.


The eel was inside a large steel canister resting on the ocean floor. Divers were handling the canister near the end of the project when the eel attacked.

The wound was not serious, said John Naughton, Pacific islands environmental coordinator with NOAA Fisheries.

In a monthlong effort, federal, state and contracted divers cemented 600 individual coral heads and colonies of broken coral pieces to the ocean floor after the 550-foot bulk carrier was hauled off the reef in early February.

They used techniques developed by Florida wildlife officials for restoring ship-grounding sites. The difference here was that divers were working in deeper water and had to adjust for the additional handling time required by the depth difference.

The 600 coral heads are in 105 clusters, each marked with a distinctive feature — a cement object shaped like a Dixie cup, with an eyebolt in it. Each was created by using an actual Dixie cup as a mold form, and then peeling off the waxy paper after the concrete hardened.

The objects will be used to identify coral colonies after they have recovered and may have become difficult to identify as having been transplanted.

The corals in the approximately six acres directly affected by the Flattery's hull were mostly crushed, but over another nine acres, hundreds of coral heads were broken or toppled by anchors, lines and steel tugboat cables.

If the broken coral heads had been left on the bottom, their rolling action would have killed their live corals. In rolling, they also could have damaged other parts of the reef.

Teams decided to try to affix the damaged but still living corals to the ocean floor in hopes they would recover and once again provide shelter for marine life.

Naughton said the program appears to have been very successful.

"The corals are in excellent condition. We're seeing tissue growing over the tips of broken branches, and fish are utilizing them as habitat," he said.

However, the scientists remain concerned that boaters could inadvertently damage the newly cemented corals by anchoring in the area. "We're not telling people not to use the area, but we request people use caution when anchoring in the site," Naughton said.

The teams have now moved on to the damage assessment phase and are expected to continue that for another few weeks.

Naughton said the crews are keeping track of their expenses, expecting that the vessel's owners will reimburse the recovery costs.

The more difficult issue will be to put a price tag on the damage caused to the reef. Naughton said that in other coastal damage cases, this process has sometimes taken years.

He said representatives of the Cape Flattery's owners continue to be involved in the discussions.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.