KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (KHON2) — The Department of Land and Natural Resources said they have discovered that 50-60 coral colonies have been damaged from 60-pound cinder blocks.

These cinder blocks were placed in the ocean for a Hawai‘i Island canoe regatta that was supposed to take place on Saturday, May 27 off the coat of Kailua-Kona in Kailua Bay.

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DLNR said this number is lower than what was first reported and is based on closer analysis from photos taken during the assessment.

“Two dive teams, from the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources, spent Tuesday documenting and photographing damage. The Founders Regatta, put on by the Keauhou Canoe Club, was paused on Saturday when it was discovered that 16 of 28 cinder blocks had been dropped on top of live coral. Racing was allowed to resume after officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement did initial dives to photograph the blocks and GPS their locations for the DAR assessment.”  

said the Department of Land and Natural Resources

The DLNR said that as of Tuesday, May 30, all but three of the cinder blocks were removed and relocated to sandy areas. The three that remain are located on mostly dead coral rubble.

“From what I’ve learned, the canoe races have been using existing block moorings to hold lane flagging for the past 40 to 50 years ” said DAR West Hawai‘i Aquatic Biologist Chris Teague led the dive teams. “The new ones that were placed for this racing season are the ones that are causing damage and are the ones we are concerned about.” 

The DLNR said that Teague has estimated that damages to individual colonies range from five percent to 100% where coral fingers were broken off of the colony.

“Overall, it is certainly less than prior reef damage caused by grounded vessels or boats that have broken loose from their moorings,” explained DLNR.

Hawaiian corals grow extremely slowly. This is why it could take one to two years for the corals to re-grow. “Fortunately, the colonies are still intact to recover from the damage,” said DLNR.

A written report will follow the dive team’s compiled findings. The report will then be reviewed by DAR leadership. They will decide whether to submit an action to the Board of Land and Natural Resources. 

“We’re tasked with managing and conserving our ocean resources and coral reefs, as the foundations of life in the ocean are vital to its overall health,” said DAR Administrator Brian Neilson.

He does expect to submit his division’s findings to the land board.

“As we have done with past coral damage cases, we will work with the canoe club on a settlement which may supplant monetary penalties with community service or other mitigation measures,” added Neilson. “However, the ultimate decision of how the coral damage is mitigated, is up to the Land Board.” 

The DLNR said that long-term, they plan to work with the canoe racing associations on the possibility of installing permanent mooring pins for race lanes so that the races do not impact coral reefs.

“Our mission is to protect Hawai‘i’s natural and cultural resources. Canoe racing is grounded in Hawaiian culture, and we recognize its importance to thousands of people across the state,” said DLNR Chair Dawn Chang.

She went on to explain further.

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“We appreciate the leadership of the Keauhou Canoe Club working with us on Saturday by halting its race so we could GPS document the damaged coral,” added Chang. “We’re confident that we will collectively come up with a plan that allows canoe racing to continue while simultaneously protecting our precious natural resources.”