Allen yacht reef damage ‘worse than expected’

This image taken from video shows some of the coral sheared off by the yacht. - IMAGE: COURTESY JASON WASHINGTON

Some of the damage caused by the anchor chain of Paul Allen’s yacht is irreparable, scuba divers who have surveyed the site believe.

Divers recorded video footage of the area of reef impacted in the Jan. 14 incident that shows large chunks of coral sheared away from the reef.

A recovery project, similar to the ongoing effort to repair reef damaged by the Carnival Magic cruise ship anchor in 2014, is being considered. But dive leaders believe the damage cannot be fully repaired and acknowledge it will be difficult to recruit volunteers to clean up after another anchor damage incident.

This image taken from video shows some of the coral sheared off by the yacht. - IMAGE: COURTESY JASON WASHINGTON
This image taken from video shows some of the coral sheared off by the yacht. – IMAGE: COURTESY JASON WASHINGTON

Jason Washington of Ambassador Divers, which runs scuba trips for tourists to the nearby Doc Poulson wreck and Knife dive site, said he was surprised at the scale of the damage, which covers 13,000 square feet of reef – equivalent to an Olympic size swimming pool.

“It was worse than I expected. It looks like the anchor chain has sheared off the top of the reef,” said Mr. Washington.

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Representatives of billionaire Microsoft co-founder Mr. Allen, a large donor to conservation causes including coral reef research, have acknowledged that his yacht Tatoosh was involved in the incident and say they are assisting with an investigation.

Neither the Ministry of Environment nor the Port Authority was able to provide an update by press time Thursday on the status of the investigation or any negotiations with Mr. Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc.

Mr. Washington said he understands the incident was an accident, but he hopes Mr. Allen’s company will help compensate for the damage caused.

He hopes the incident will be a wake-up call to boat owners and the Port Authority.

“There has been such an outcry over this that I hope people will learn lessons from it and everybody will be a lot more careful,” Mr. Washington added.

Joe Avary, a diver who has volunteered on the Cayman Magic Reef Recovery project over the last 18 months, surveyed the site this week. He believes the damage is similar in size and scale to the destruction caused by the cruise ship anchor in the earlier incident.

“On the Magic reef, there is this really dramatic scar where the anchor was dropped on the reef – here it is more that the chain has rolled continuously over the reef like a rolling pin.”
He said large chunks of hard coral, some with soft gorgonians still attached, were lying on the ocean floor in sand channels that run between the fingers of coral reef.

Volunteers have put in more than 1,000 man hours and shifted 10 tons of rubble to clean up and rebuild the reef after the Carnival Magic incident. The project is in the home stretch, but teams are still working to attach surviving salvaged coral to the reef.

Mr. Avary believes there is some fatigue in the dive community following that project. He thinks it is unlikely that as many people will step up to give their time again.

“I would be willing to get something started,” he said. “I remember how much fun it was and how energized everyone was at the start of the Cayman Magic Reef Recovery effort. I don’t think we would be able to get that type of response again. I don’t see the enthusiasm for that type of volunteer effort happening a second time. I think there is some frustration that these events keep happening.”

He said the best method to mitigate the damage would be to take the approach used following the Maasdam incident in 1996. After Holland America’s Maasdam ran aground on Soto’s Reef off George Town, the cruise company financed the restoration effort, paying divers to work full-time.

Mr. Washington has posted a video of the damage on his blog at:

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  1. Sorry but the blame needs to be placed where it belongs: with the port authority officer who told them where to drop anchor.

    Is any record kept as to which officer directs the mooring of which vessel? If not there should be.

    The water there is 50 foot deep and crystal clear. There can be no excuse for such sloppiness and a head should roll.