Maui Business

Maui Innovator Awarded $10K for Environmental Technology

May 24, 2016, 8:24 AM HST
* Updated May 24, 2:43 PM
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Cole Keaoulu Santos. Courtesy image.

Courtesy image.

Maui’s Cole Keaoulu Santos was awarded $10,000 for his unique and environmentally-friendly buoy mooring system which stabilizes a boat on the ocean surface.

The award was issued by the US Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, in conjunction with the US Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center.

The prize competition, sponsored the America COMPETES prize competition, came from the Coast Guard’s need to operationalize an innovative method to anchor navigational buoys that would minimally impact the ocean floor and environmentally sensitive areas.

“Reaching out to citizen-scientists for their creative ideas is important to our ability to improve safety and security across the nation,” said Dr. Reginald Brothers, DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology. “When the Coast Guard told us of their concern about outdated mooring systems that haven’t changed in decades, S&T reached out to the innovation community for ideas for a fix.”

Cole Keaoulu Santos will receive a $10,000 cash award for his winning submission, a line with inner elastic cords that is surrounded and protected by ultra-high- strength, poly-fiber rope, and embedded into the seafloor by a screw anchor.


As an alternative to using screw anchors in areas where environmental damage has already occurred, he proposed the use of reef balls as a means of restoring ailing coral reefs and creating new habitats for local marine life.


The combined approach would eliminate the scouring of the seabed that occurs with current chain-and- anchor buoy systems. This idea was selected above all others because it uses an already proven technology and will have minimal impact on the environmentally sensitive ocean floor.

Cole Keaoulu Santos developed his winning proposal after observing several different types of mooring and anchoring techniques, including the use of divers to install manta moorings locally, screw-type anchors used in Australia, and elastic mooring cables employed in New England.

“I have experience building and maintaining moorings locally on the island and mooring conservation is a big deal here in Maui,” he said. “Our reefs in Maui, and everywhere else, are an economic asset that is real, tangible and under serious decline for various environmental reasons, most of which involve humans.”


“I strive to be a productive gear in human progress,” Cole Keaoulu Santos responded when asked what drew him to the prize challenge. “Seeing things I work on become successful drives me to more progress. I want to see mankind overcome himself.”

In addition to being a scuba diver, he has worked as a tropical aquarium collector, commercial fisherman, and is known for his involvement with local community issues regarding artificial reef systems and habitats. He is a founder of a makerspace organization, Maui Makers LLC. One of his life goals is to build artificial islands for seasteading and space habitats.

When he’s not tackling environmental issues or diving, he works as a self-employed real estate professional. Cole Santos lives on Maui with his wife and three children.

He became aware of this prize competition through InnoCentive, DHS’s administrator for prize challenges. You can help DHS and other federal agencies solve tough problems or develop innovative solutions and become a part of the citizen science and crowdsourcing movement by signing up at

Registered innovators can share their talents and interests, participate in blogs and discussions, communicate with agency prize competition managers, and receive notices about new opportunities to contribute to DHS and other agency competitions.

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