Coral in Kaneohe Bay ‘pulverized’ after Navy aircraft slid off runway into ocean
An assessment of the coral reefs in Kaneohe Bay after a Navy aircraft slid off the runway at Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i last month showed extensive damage with state officials describing some areas as “pulverized.”
Dive teams from the state and federal government spent Sunday and Monday in the waters. The U.S. Navy deployed three booms to contain any possible fuel leakage from its P-8A Poseidon aircraft.
On Monday, on the second day of an assessment of damage to coral reefs, dive teams from the state and federal government looked at 15 additional anchor points that were placed in coral to hold the booms in place. Sunday they viewed 15 as well.
The majority of the 30 were impacting coral. They also advised Navy divers on best management practices, as they began removing the boom anchors, to try and minimize any additional damage.
Kim Fuller, biologist for the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources, leading the state team, said that during their 2 1/2 hours of dive time Sunday they were able to delineate the majority of the initial impact area. Monday, they were finishing up delineating the impact site within the inner-most boom.
“The major impact area, at this point, is pulverized coral,” Fuller said. Closer to shore, at the end of the runway, coral colonies have a multitude of white scars. Tops of corals are sliced off where the plane’s landing gear first struck,or during its salvage.
“Due to the habitat, we feel that overturning corals immediately will be the best restoration option, and that’s what we plan to do. Some of the fragments are quite small and in other places colonies were toppled or had large chunks broken off.
Normally we would reattach coral colonies in place, but those are areas where there’s solid substrate on which to attach them. Where the plane impacted it’s a mixture. There are solid coral areas adjacent to shore, some sand further out, and then it’s a mixed rubble, coral, sandy habitat,” Fuller explained.
Normally biologists need four to five days in the water to conduct a full assessment of a boat grounding or other impacts to reefs, like the P-8A accident. Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i has scheduled additional time today for continuing the assessment.
“They’ve been very cooperative. It is difficult for them as well, as they need to resume base and flight operations. We hope for continued collaboration with and the Navy to restore the natural resources at the site,” Fuller commented.
The most recent coral damage incident she worked on was the dragging of an anchor chain over coral colonies in Honolulu Harbor. Asked to compare that case with this one, she said, “The footprint of that area was much larger, but the coral density was much lower. In the bay the footprint is smaller, however the coral density is higher. We want to do all we can to give the damaged corals better chances for survival.”
Fuller and her federal counterparts are documenting their findings in written reports.