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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Sea life returning to repaired coral

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

Divers are seeing reef fish returning to rescued coral heads at the site of last month's grounding of the cargo ship Cape Flattery.

Fish swim by a chunk of coral toppled last month after a cargo ship ran aground off Kalaeloa. Divers are cementing broken coral heads to the reef floor.

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While there were a few small fish swimming around some of the toppled corals as they lay on the sea floor, communities of marine life seem to be returning to coral heads that have been set upright by divers, said John Naughton, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine biologist.

"We're seeing large numbers of fish utilizing the colonies. The density seems greater. We see damselfish, po'opa'a (stocky hawkfish), wrasses and other things, including some invertebrates — mostly crabs," he said.

Repairs to the damaged coral are progressing even as life is returning to the area.

Working in water 30 to 65 feet deep, divers have been cementing broken coral heads back to the reef floor. As of Friday, they had affixed more than 400 coral heads, ranging in size from 6 inches to 3 feet.

Additionally, they cemented together 72 clusters of broken corals, forming what were described as coral flower arrangements of broken but still-living corals.

Most of the damage was caused by cables between tugboats and the 555-foot Cape Flattery, which ran aground off Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor on Feb. 2 and was pulled free eight days later.

"Despite the big swell we've seen, we've inspected the work and everything's locked in. We're real pleased," Naughton said.

Naughton said that early on, divers used straight concrete, which can take some time to harden. Recently, the teams of divers have been working with concrete to which a bonding agent has been added, which speeds hardening.

"We have about 10 minutes. On some of the bigger coral heads, we have a diver stay and hold it still. It's working real well," he said.

The dive team also has developed a fan, in the form of a 300-pound male turtle.

"We had a couple of turtles checking on us, including one huge male that buddied up with us while we were working. It would sit right there and watch us, then swim off a short distance to graze, and come right back. Real curious."

Dive teams also have identified for recovery a few pieces of man-made debris, including pieces of cable, hose and miscellaneous objects, he said. The team consists of government divers, with help from contractor Cates International.

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