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Coral replacement at Nanakuli FORACS project

Cauliflower Coral Colony
A transplanted cauliflower coral colony taken during the November 2020 monitoring event. A livestock ear tag is attached for identification purposes. (Photo by Steven Smith)

04/12/21 03:56 PM

By Kathy Isobe, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

In July 2020, Navy divers assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1 based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Intermediate Maintenance Facility Dive Locker Team began Phase I of a Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), Integrated Warfare Systems Engineering Group (SEA 05H) project to remove underwater components of an inactive Fleet Operational Readiness Accuracy Check Site (FORACS) at Nanakuli Beach Park.

The FORACS had ceased operations in 2010 and the Navy began dismantling old conduit and cables. Sailors removed more than 30,000 pounds of defunct equipment off the reef. (For the initial story, see “MDSU-1, NAVSEA Remove Defunct FORACS Equipment off Nanakuli Beach.”)

In September 2020, the team continued with Phase I of the project which involved relocating selected corals from remaining conduits slated for removal, to a nearby area. Since the cables were first installed in the 1960s, ocean life, including corals, recruited to and became attached to the equipment.

As a part of the Navy’s commitment to reducing impacts on coral reefs, appropriately sized healthy corals were removed from the cables and reattached to the ocean floor further offshore.

“SEA 05H is committed to being good environmental stewards and this project allowed them to continue that legacy. It was very important to us to ensure every single possibly viable coral was transplanted,” said Dawn Rodes, SEA 05H FORACS program manager.

The Navy worked in partnership with the state of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Corals must meet optimal transplant criteria of size and health to have the best outcome for regeneration.

Eligible coral colonies were carefully removed with a small chisel and mallet from the cables or conduit. They were placed in empty plastic milk crates and carefully transported to a new nearby location, all the while being submerged. Divers swam the crates to the seafloor and then the coral colonies were secured with a special underwater epoxy. This approach is fairly successful in establishing corals in a new location and is a common practice among scientists worldwide.

A total of 24 coral colonies were transplanted in September 2020 and are being monitored at various intervals to determine ongoing conditions and transplant success.

“At the last monitoring event in February 2021 many of the transplants were doing very well,” said Marine Ecologist Stephen Smith of the Scientific Diving Services at Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific.

According to Smith, corals occur from the North to South poles, from the intertidal zone to the deepest portions of the ocean. Most people only think of shallow water tropical coral reefs, like in Hawaii.

“It is important to remember that the presence of some coral does not necessarily constitute a coral reef. For example, a rainforest species of tree in a parking lot planter does not mean the parking lot is a rainforest,” he said.

“The species of coral in this project are important in that they provide, directly and indirectly, shelter, and food for a wide range of marine invertebrates and fishes. Many of those are in turn prey for larger animals.

Well-developed reefs also provide shore line protection and act as natural breakwaters to reduce wave energy and protect the shoreline,” he said.

The next monitoring event of the transplanted coral will occur in April 2021.

“This project will provide important insights into how best to transplant corals off old, rusting metallic surfaces,” said Smith.


(Note: Published in the April 2021 Ho'okele magazine)