Luxury Yacht Owner to Pay $100,000 for Coral Damage

September 2, 2020, 7:47 AM HST · Updated September 2, 7:47 AM
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    Formosa coral damage. PC: Hawai’i DLNR / Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    Formosa coral damage. PC: Hawai’i DLNR / Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    Formosa damage. PC: Hawai’i DLNR / Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources & Atlantis Submarines.

    Formosa coral damage. PC: Hawai’i DLNR / Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    Formosa coral damage. PC: Hawai’i DLNR / Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    Formosa yacht. PC: Hawai’i DLNR / Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    The state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted Friday to impose a $100,000 fine on the owners of a luxury yacht that damaged hundreds of coral colonies in 2018 when its anchor swung through the coral bed at Kailua Bay on Hawai’i island.

    The fines will go to the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources for support of coral reef management and restoration in West Hawai‘i.

    BLNR voted last Friday to approve the settlement agreement with the Formosa Wealth Management Group (FWM), owners of the 197-foot luxury yacht. DAR informed the board that a prosecution against FWM could provide difficult because it operates under a foreign flag.

    DAR’s submittal to the BLNR showed the vessel violated Hawaiʻi Administrative Rules by breaking and damaging approximately 431 coral colonies of stony coral and approximately 150-square feet of live rock, when the Formosa dropped anchor in the Kailua Bay Zone of the Kona Coast Fishery Management Area.

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    Damages included whole massive coral colonies broken along the base and overturned; breakage of attached/live coral colonies, characterized by bright white chunks of coral dislodged from live coral colonies and lying nearby; and areas of shattered finger coral (Porites compressa), with branches piled together and white coral skeleton exposed at the breakage point at the bottom of the branches. Stony coral species that were impacted included: Yellow mound coral (Porites lobata), Finger coral (Porites compressa), Smooth mound coral (Porites evermanni), Plate-and-pillar coral (Porites rus), Rice coral (Genus Montipora), and live rock.

    Employees of Big Island Watersports observed the Formosa’s anchor was not properly set and documented the presence of recently broken coral in the immediate area. DAR aquatic biologists were made aware of the incident by employees of the Atlantis Submarine who also witnessed and documented damage. After anchoring on the reef, the boat later moved into deeper water and anchored in sand.

    DAR biologists, contractors, and technicians conducted two investigative surveys and two mitigation dives during three site visits to the Formosa’s anchoring sites. They measured the damaged area, created a photographic record of the damage, and documented the species and number of coral specimens impacted.

    After their initial surveys, the DAR team completed three dives to repair live corals at the site, where possible. Efforts included righting over 50 large coral colonies and placing them in relatively stable hardbottom reef locations and stabilizing over 250 coral fragments in the surrounding reef structure to ensure the best possible chance of survival.

    Nikki Smith, a DAR aquatic biologist in Kona, said that damage to the Porites compressa coral bed was “quite extensive”, noting that a lot of the damage occurred from the anchor’s chain “swinging through the bed.”

    Biologists estimated that total damages to all stony coral species covered an area of 11,294 square feet. The affected area had an estimated live coral cover of 50-70%, which is unusually high for West Hawaiʻi, following the 2015 coral bleaching event.

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