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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, February 18, 2005

Coral repairs begin at Barbers Point reef

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

Divers were driven from the water by a strong south current at midday yesterday, but began coral-cementing experiments in the afternoon at the site where the bulk carrier Cape Flattery went aground and damaged the reef of Barbers Point.

Toppled coral heads, such as this one, are being targeted for reattachment with concrete.

NOAA Fisheries Service

A multi-agency team continued assessing the extent of reef damage, but a crew yesterday afternoon started making the first repairs. They were led by Steve Kolinski, a coral reef ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries office.

Divers working from a small boat planned to identify specific coral heads in fairly shallow water for reattachment. Many corals in the region were toppled or crushed by the grounded ship, its anchors, or the heavy cables of the tugboats.

Fisheries biologist John Naughton said the group planned to use a wire brush to clean a space on the reef where a toppled coral head would be placed. Then a batch of concrete would be mixed on the boat and passed to the divers in a plastic container. They would take the concrete to the cleaned surface and form it in place.

"You put a pancake (of concrete) down and set the coral head in it," he said.

The fast-hardening concrete should eventually disappear as coral polyps grow over it and form a permanent bond to the reef.

The transplanting of corals is a process that has been experimented with in Hawai'i for at least three decades, but the biggest such projects have been done in the Caribbean at sites where large ships have gone aground. Hawai'i researchers have consulted with coral reef recovery experts at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary on the techniques.

Marine researchers hope the repair work will keep the coral heads upright and in place when the next big swell comes in from the southwest. Naughton said transplanting is fairly easy in the calm waters of lagoons and protected bays, but adhesives are needed in environments like Barbers Point.

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