What The State Of Hawaii Intends To Do About The Time A Fake Reef Attacked A Real Coral Reef At Keawakapu

Sometimes it’s the smallest stories in a newspaper that prove the most interesting. On Jan. 5, I was skimming through The Maui News when I found the small, unbylined article “DLNR to present plan for repairing coral off Kihei” on page A3. The headline is unremarkable, but the story below it was anything but.

I had no idea that on Dec. 2, 2009 (according to a 110-page report on the subject written by Honolulu-based Planning Solutions, Inc.–click here for a PDF of the report), an American Marine barge above the Keawakapu Artificial Reef Site began dumping 1,400 “Z” block modules–which weigh about 1,200 kilograms–as part of a state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) effort to increase the size of the artificial reef there and, thus, attract more fish to the area. But something went wrong, and the barge ended up dropping approximately 125 of those modules on actual, living coral.

There’s grim humor in this. For marine biologists, this kind of thing is pretty close to a crime. Indeed, the state levies heavy fines found to have damaged living coral regardless of whether the damage was done accidentally or on purpose. But to injure a coral reef while trying to build an artificial reef? That’s too much.

Then again, the construction of artificial reefs in Hawaii, which have been going on since the 1960s, used to be a far more haphazard and questionable affair. Here again is the Planning Solutions report:

“These early efforts at establishing artificial reefs in Hawaii used the technology then available as did other reef programs in the U.S.,” stated the report. “Initially these reefs worked well, but over a long period of time many have proved to be relatively poor fish attractants because of the common practice of using unmodified scrap materials (here car bodies and concrete pipe) that are just dumped at sea. The resulting reefs have had low profiles, little refuge space, poor stability characteristics (pipes roll and crush benthic organisms) and/or short life expectancies. If they remain in one location, car bodies usually corrode away in 3 to 5 years… The lack of stability in the materials used means that benthic communities which serve as a food source to many fish cannot become permanently established. The lack of refuge space provided by the materials used allows spear and net fishermen to over-exploit resident fishes; the absence of adequate topographical relief, translates into less than maximal enhancement.”

In any case, Planning Solutions is recommending that the state move the 125 misplaced modules. They’ll present their plan on Thursday, Jan. 10 at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary education center (726 S. Kihei Rd.). The meeting will last from 6-8pm.

Photo of Keawakapu Beach: Viriditas/Wikimedia Commons