Coral reefs across the globe are already feeling the strain from the changing temperatures, tourism, and overfishing, and now one Hawaiian reef can add one more stressor to its list — a grounded luxury yacht that has caused extensive damage off the coast of Maui.
At the end of February, a 94-foot, 120-ton luxury yacht called Nakoa ran aground on Maui, causing damage to over 19,400 square feet of the area’s coral reef — just over the size of four basketball courts.
The Nakoa was stuck on the reef for two weeks before it was pulled free when it sank 800 feet underwater and caused more damage to the reef as it was towed back to Honolulu.
When divers from the Hawai’i State Division of Aquatic Resources initially assessed the damage, they found that 19 coral colonies were damaged by the Nakoa’s first grounding. But after the yacht was dragged along the sea bed, it left 101 impacted coral colonies and 2,099 square feet of damaged live rock in its wake.
Why is the grounded yacht concerning?
Coral reefs are in rapid decline around the world because of warming temperatures, shipping, and tourism.
When the ocean gets too warm, coral becomes stressed and expels the algae that live inside it, giving it its bleached appearance. If the coral stays stressed for too long, it will not allow the algae to return. Without the algae, the coral dies.
In Hawaii, mass bleaching events wiped out large areas of coral reefs in 2014 and 2015, in some cases causing up to 50% of the coral to die out.
Passing boats and trampling scuba divers can also damage the reefs. Overtourism leads to more littering, disturbance of local wildlife, and pollution from sunscreen.
Researchers have warned that the world’s coral reefs could vanish by 2050 unless we strengthen our efforts to protect them.
That’s bad news for marine biodiversity. Coral reefs are home to a quarter of all fish species in the world’s oceans and also help to shelter the coast from storms. In Hawaii alone, an estimated 7,000 species of plants and animals live on 410,000 acres of coral reef — 1,250 of which can only be found on Hawaii’s shoreline.
What’s being done about the damaged coral reef?
The Hawai’i State Division of Aquatic Resources is working with the Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute to repair as much of the reef as possible.
Divers from the Maui Ocean Center Marine have already recovered more than 100 pieces of dislodged coral and will continue to look for more. The marine institute lab will grow out these coral fragments to be used in future reef restoration projects. Once conditions in the ocean improve, the retrieved pieces will then be reattached to the reef.
The yacht’s owner will be held liable for the costs of salvaging the damaged rock and coral. The owner has been denied insurance coverage for the removal and has hired a bankruptcy attorney.
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