Removal of concrete from reef opposed

Members of the community last week objected to the proposed removal of concrete modules that were mistakenly dropped on coral within the Keawakapu artificial reef three years ago, citing cost issues and the possibility of creating more problems.

“Spending $400,000 on moving them is crazy,” said Cole Keaoulu Santos of Wailuku, who works for the county Department of Water Supply and is a scuba instructor. “I’ve moved heavy stuff before, and I don’t even want to imagine moving those things. That is the most scary thing ever. Rebar rusts; when the rebar rusts, the concrete cracks, and when the concrete cracks it disintegrates.”

Santos said that the money should be used to expand the reef and embrace its artificial nature, rather than be used to remove the modules.

“If you’re looking for aesthetics and original nature, go somewhere else,” he said. “There are so many dives. I’ve dived the whole island. That’s our one spot to see what humans do when they mess with nature.”

Leslie Kuloloio, who is a Kahoolawe representative for the Aha Moku Advisory Committee, and other community members were worried that problems with the removal of the modules could occur, such as crews mishandling modules and accidentally dropping them on more live coral.

“Shut (the operation) down,” said Kuloloio. “Shut them down and move them out of there. Let nature do its modifications and let nature do its transfiguration.”

The Aha Moku Advisory Committee is a part of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and has Native Hawaiian representatives from each island who offer input on traditional natural resource management.

Community members expressed their concerns at a meeting Thursday night at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in Kihei. The meeting held by the DLNR was set up to gauge public input as well as discuss a technical report and corrective action plan to possibly remediate the damage to almost 5 acres of live coral that had some 125 slabs of concrete accidently placed on them in early December 2009 during a reef expansion project for the 46-year-old artificial reef off South Maui.

In November 2010, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources said that the state was two-thirds responsible and contractor American Marine Corp. was one-third responsible. The work was being supervised by DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources officials.

The board authorized a settlement in which the state Division of Aquatic Resources would pay $268,000 and American Marine would pay $132,000.

Richard Brock, a private consultant hired by Planning Solutions Inc., prepared a technical and corrective action report for the DLNR and discussed it at the meeting.

Brock’s and the Division of Aquatic Resources’ research found more than 85 percent of the reef to be structurally sound, with 312 square meters of coral damaged in the 2009 incident.

After reviewing their assessments of the 52-acre artificial reef, they found that the modules covered only 0.2 percent of live coral in the artificial reef.

Although Brock stated that the damage is having a small impact on the overall reef, the DLNR recommends removing the modules or, at the very least, deploying them on appropriate substratum.

Brock outlined possible methods to help remedy the problems, which include crews deploying modules in a “piled” configuration to improve shelter space for marine life and to help restore any lost ecological services due to the accident.

The division would spend the designated restoration amount of $400,000 to conduct the removal of the modules.

Although the DLNR would like to have something done, there are three options to consider: complete removal, partial removal or no removal.

Russell Sparks, the Division of Aquatic Resources’ Maui education specialist, said that he acknowledges the possibility of causing more damage, but the goal is to return the reef to its natural state.

“Those blocks staying in place, it’s going to take a lot longer for the reef to grow over them and come back to a natural state,” he said.

The modules, which have covered the reef for approximately 37 months, are primarily covered in microalgal “fuzz” and coralline algae. According to Brock, benthic communities have sprouted on and under the modules, but little to none of the outer surface is covered by coral.

Ka’au Abraham, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, attended the meeting as a concerned Kihei resident. He told a story about speaking to a classroom of students about the Hawaiian monk seal, which had one student particularly inspired.

“He said, ‘Uncle, you’re a trendsetter,'” said Abraham. “Then he said, ‘How come the government can’t be a trendsetter?’ And I was boggled. I got my NOAA hat on and this 18-year-old kid is telling me why can’t the government be trendsetters.”

Abraham said that at a school workshop before the meeting, he discussed with students how the agency could inspire the public and change its perception of government.

Santos agreed with Abraham and said that the state should turn the accident into a positive.

“There are huge problems with fisheries, and we’re not going to solve it by stepping backwards,” he said. “We’re going to solve it by moving forward . . . with one cool project that inspires people and shows that mankind is moving forward.”

DAR officials said they will consider the public’s input and finalize their restoration plan. A draft environmental assessment will be prepared in the following months and circulate through the normal Office of Environmental Quality Control process.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at