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February 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 36, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hawaii Crushes a Reef with 50 Tons of Concrete

from the February, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) bungled its artificial reef deployment off of South Maui in December, dropping more than 50 tons of concrete modules on top of a pristine Maui reef, virtually destroying it.

The state submerged about 1,400 concrete blocks to expand the artificial reef at Keawakapu Beach, between Kihei and Wailea, and create an additional marine life habitat, but some of the blocks inadvertently landed on live coral. Fragile and endemic finger coral serving as nursery habitat for juvenile fish was crushed by the modules as the DLNR barge dumped its load without anchoring.

Despite GPS and buoys marking the way, the DLNR barge dropped the whole load way off target while it was being maneuvered by a tugboat. Don Domingo of Maui Dreams Dive Shop and Terry Hunt, a former commercial net fisherman, were two divers recruited by DLNR to help coordinate the project. Both declined responsibility for the mishap, blaming the barge operator. Hunt said, “Shit happens.”

DLNR is whitewashing the event, calling the damage minimal. According to its spokesperson, “New coral and seaweed will grow on the forms, which will provide additional habitat to new communities of reef fish . . . artificial reefs increase potential fishing grounds for fishermen.”

Artificial reefs are controversial with conservation groups because they aggregate fish, making them easier targets, and lead to overfishing. Maui does not suffer from lack of fishing grounds but it does suffer from a lack of fish. Now fish habitat is covered by cement blocks. And the damaged reef at Keawekapu may now be exposed to further devastation from natural disasters, including the giant swell on its way.

Rene Umberger is a Maui dive instructor and guide, and she also works with the Hawaii Reef Fish Recovery Project.

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