The owners of a luxury yacht that dropped its anchor in a coral bed off the Hawaiian coast, damaging 431 coral colonies in the process, have been charged $100,000, less than the cost of renting the boat for two days, for the incident.
Owners of Formosa, a 197-foot yacht that rents for $474,000 per week, settled with the state last Friday, with the money going to Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources to support coral reef management and restoration in West Hawaii.
The Formosa caused “extensive” damage to the Porites compressa coral bed in October 2018 when it dropped anchor in Kailua Bay and left the anchor chain swinging through the bed, according to Division of Aquatic Resources biologist Nikki Smith.
“We could see where the anchor had impacted, but then there was a very clear radius of damage around that area where the anchor chain had swung around almost in a complete circle,” Smith told VICE News.
Biologists, contractors, and technicians conducted two investigative surveys and two mitigation dives to document the damage, followed by three dives to repair live corals where possible.
Total damages to stony coral species covered 11,294 square feet in an area with live coral cover of 50 to 70 per cent, which Smith said is high for West Hawaii–especially after the region lost about half its coral cover in a major bleaching event in 2015.
“This, on top of that bleaching damage, was definitely substantial and disheartening,” Smith said.
“It will take years to recover that area.”
Smith said Hawaii’s coral species are fairly slow-growing compared to some other areas in the world, growing just a few centimeters per year.
The Formosa is listed for charter on Fraser Yachts, an international company that calls itself the largest luxury yacht service provider in the world.
Fraser bills the Formosa as “the only 60-metre yacht less than five years old on the market,” boasting a private owner’s deck, a cinema room, two VIP suites, and three guest cabins. “Exceptionally spacious with fresh, modern, and sophisticated design elements throughout, she features a stunning interior design,” the website says.
The Formosa’s sale price is $41.5 million.
Fraser Yachts did not respond to a request for comment by deadline, but Smith said the owners were co-operative through the surveying process.
Taking, breaking, or damaging stony coral is a petty misdemeanor offense in Hawaii, punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 for a first offense and additional administrative fines of up to $1,000 per specimen.
Simon Donner, a geography professor with the University of British Columbia’s Institute of Oceans and Fisheries, said while it’s important to penalize incidents like this one that cause localized damage, it’s the indirect damage caused by climate change that is causing coral death on a broader scale.
“Wealthy person owning a yacht, not paying attention to the local environment and doing damage, is something we should talk about,” Donner said. “What worries me is if the wealthy person also owns an oil company and is not doing anything serious about climate change.”
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