PUNALUU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A family from Punalu'u is calling a boat covered in barnacles and Japanese markings that washed ashore on Sunday an early Christmas present, but officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said on Monday that taking over ownership of the vessel may not be that simple.
Leilehuanani Kane Tapado says her family helped stop the 24-foot vessel from tumbling in the surf, turning it over and guiding upstream so that it could be tied up near the home the family rents on Kamehameha Highway. They want to use it for cultural purposes, like fishing and exploring the reef near their home.
"We're just so thankful that our kupuna, and our family, our aunties and uncles, mahalo'd [sic] us with this beautiful gift," said Kane Tapado. "They said... 'Look what Santa brought us!'"
But an examination on Monday revealed that the boat, noticeably covered in non-invasive species like gooseneck barnacles and several species of crabs, also contained an unwanted species.
Asian green mussels are native to the Asia-Pacific region and are not found in Hawaiian waters. State officials are concerned that if some of the mussels fell off of the boat and into the ocean or Punalu'u stream that they could repopulate and become disruptive to the ecosystem.
"We don't have very many species of mussels that form dense colonies, so you could pretty much walk on the reef just worried about vana," said William Aila Jr., Chairperson of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. "We don't know what kind of concerns that these mussels would pose if they were to become established, to other fish, to other mollusks, things like that."
Aila also says that before anyone can claim ownership of the boat, protocol dictates that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contact the Japanese consulate in an effort to find the vessel's owner and determine if it is, in fact, tsunami debris.
"What they have been very successful with in the past is contacting either owners of marinas where vessels have been stored or organizations associated with these vessels and getting back confirmation," said Aila.
Despite the obstacles, Aila says there is still a possibility that the Kane Tapado family could end up with the boat.
"Generally a vessel of this size, and the value that it poses, it's not economically feasible to ship this back to Japan," says Aila. "So the past three vessels that we've dealt with in this situation, the owners have basically said 'That's okay, we don't want it back.'"
If the boat is confirmed as tsunami debris, it would become the fifth piece of debris to wash ashore in Hawaii and the 17th to do so on the western coast of North America.