04 August 2009

Big fines to protect coral reefs

Hawaii is imposing serious fines on those who damage reefs. A tour company was fined nearly $400,000 and the state plans to sue the U.S. Navy when a guided missile cruiser ran aground near Pearl Harbor.

Coral get damaged when boats drop anchor on a reef, collide into reefs and sink on reefs. Does this sort of thing happen in Singapore too? Sadly yes.
Overturned and broken corals at Pulau Jong in July 2009, possibly due to a boat collision, from the colourful clouds blog.

Smashed reef at Raffles Lighthouse in June 2006, from the Musings of a Barefoot Traveller blog
Broken corals in Singapore reefs from diving or boating activities, from the Coral Reefs of Singapore website.

More about the situation in Hawaii

Hawaii began issuing fines two years ago as part of its efforts to punish those who damage a resource critical to Hawaii's fragile environment and tourism, the state's No. 1 industry.

Hawaii had the legal authority to impose such fines before, but instead preferred to simply educate offenders about reefs and have them assist with the cost of restoration. It shifted course after realizing this wasn't prompting people to take necessary precautions around coral.

Hawaii is home to 84 percent of all coral under U.S. jurisdiction.

Experts say coral reefs in the marine monument are in good shape. But those near population the main Hawaiian island population centers are under pressure from sediment found in runoff, overfishing and invasive algae.

Careless ocean users, who can kill a 500-year-old coral in five minutes, are another danger.

"Each one may be considered fairly small. But when you add them together, then the impact gets to be even greater," said University of Hawaii coral reef expert Richard Richmond.

Maui Snorkel Charters, which runs tours under the name Maui Dive Shop, is paying the largest fine assessed so far.

In 2006, its Kai Anela tour boat headed to Molokini with 15 snorkelers and a captain armed with just three days of training. No tourists were hurt when the ship sank after developing mechanical problems, but the company tripled the original coral damage area by bungling salvage attempts.

The state's staff biologist estimates the area will take 80 years to recover.

Maui Snorkel Charters is paying $396,000 in a settlement, with part of the money up front and the rest in installments through 2011. The company apologized, and the Kai Anela is back in service.

The Navy is another target, for coral wrecked over a 6- to 10-acre area when the USS Port Royal ran aground. The Navy has already spent nearly $40 million on ship repairs and some $7 million restoring the reef, including dispatching scuba divers to help reattach more than 5,000 broken coral colonies.

Full article on the wildsingapore news blog.

What you can do for our reefs?

It's important to visit our reefs regularly to check up on how they are doing and whether they have been damaged. This is true also for our intertidal shores.

The Blue Water Volunteers run various programmes focused on reefs; from above water guiding, to underwater reef surveys that require volunteer divers.

More about what you can do for our reefs on the Coral Reefs of Singapore website.

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