Grounded sailboat has reef caretakers concerned about coral damage

Heeia - A grounded sailboat has been stuck on a reef on Oahu's windward side, causing concern for what's it's doing to coral beneath the vessel.

"I'd like to see this vessel off of our reef," said Hiilei Kawelo of Paepae O Heeia.

She and other caretakers of the Heeia fishpond spotted the 25-foot sailboat tilting on the edge of a fringing reef March 2, and reported it to the state. 
The reef surrounds Kealohi Point.

Kawelo is upset that the sailboat hasn't been removed.

"The vessel is sitting right on the live coral," she said. "The keels of a sailboat are really deep. It's causing damage on a daily basis."

Kuulei Rodgers of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology agrees. Her staff checked out the area near the sailboat and spotted lots of broken finger and rice coral.

"Once those corals are damaged...it's very slow to recover," she said. "These species grow a couple of centimeters a year."

The state's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation says the sailboat is not insured. They notified the owner Wednesday that the boat will be impounded, and bids taken to have it removed as soon as possible.

Kawelo is disappointed it's taking so long to correct the situation.

"Kaneohe Bay is a special place for a lot of people," she said. "It really pains me to see something like this causing destruction."

Rodgers said damage extends beyond the reef.

"Fish need protection and they use this as shelter. A lot of marine organisms use it for food and for other reasons," she said. "The corals are the foundation, the keystone species of the reefs."

The state said the sailboat's owner won't get another mooring permit until the removal costs are recovered.

The Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation said it stabilized the sailboat immediately after hearing of the grounding, and no fuel or oil has leaked from it.

The state's Aquatic Resources branch will also do its own assessment of the coral's condition.

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