Approximately 100 coral colonies sustained a range of minimal-to-significant damage from 60-pound cinder blocks placed in the ocean for a canoe regatta on Hawaiʻi Island last weekend, officials said.
Dive teams with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources spent Tuesday documenting and photographing damage at Kailua Bay.
The Founders Regatta, put on by the Keauhou Canoe Club, was paused on Saturday when it was discovered that 16 of 28 cinder blocks had been dropped on top of live coral. Racing was allowed to resume after officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement did initial dives to photograph the blocks and GPS their locations for the DAR assessment.
As of Tuesday, all but three of the blocks had been relocated onto mostly dead coral rubble, according to a department update.
“From what I’ve learned, the canoe races have been using existing block moorings to hold lane flagging for the past 40 to 50 years,” said DAR West Hawai‘i Aquatic Biologist Chris Teague who led the dive teams. “The new ones that were placed for this racing season are the ones that are causing damage and are the ones we are concerned about,” he said.
Teague estimates that damage to individual colonies ranges from 5% to 100%, but overall, he said, “it is certainly less than prior reef damage caused by grounded vessels or boats that have broken loose from their moorings.”
The dive team’s findings will be compiled into a written report that will be reviewed by DAR leadership, which will then decide whether to submit an action to the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
DAR Administrator Brian Neilson said, “We’re tasked with managing and conserving our ocean resources and coral reefs, as the foundations of life in the ocean are vital to its overall health.” He expects to submit his division’s findings to the land board.
“As we have done with past coral damage cases, we will work with the canoe club on a settlement which may supplant monetary penalties with community service or other mitigation measures,” said Neilson.
In the long-term, DLNR plans to work with canoe racing associations on the possibility of installing permanent mooring pins of some sort in race lanes that do not impact coral reefs.
DLNR Chair Dawn Chang said, “Our mission is to protect Hawaiʻi’s natural and cultural resources. Canoe racing is grounded in Hawaiian culture, and we recognize its importance to thousands of people across the state. We appreciate the leadership of the Keauhou Canoe Club working with us on Saturday by halting its race so we could GPS document the damaged coral. We’re confident that we will collectively come up with a plan that allows canoe racing to continue while simultaneously protecting our precious natural resources.”