DoE, Paul Allen settle differences to salvage coral reef

Paul Allen's yacht Tatoosh. - PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER

Work will resume Tuesday on repairing an area of coral reef that was damaged when the mega-yacht Tatoosh, owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, dropped anchor off West Bay in January.

Ending a running dispute, the Department of Environment and Mr. Allen’s company Vulcan Inc issued a joint statement late last week confirming they had agreed to an “emergency restoration plan” for the reef.

The two parties had clashed over the size and scale of the restoration job, with Mr. Allen’s company accusing the DoE of dragging its feet on approving its suggested remediation plan.

The most urgent time-sensitive work began two weeks ago as the negotiations dragged on. Those differences now appear to have been resolved and reef restoration experts Polaris

Applied Sciences will be on site Tuesday to get on with the job.

The DoE and Vulcan said in the statement that they have agreed on the “principles and parameters” of a jointly administered plan, “which has the immediate focus of helping to speed up the recovery of the damaged site, and to minimise or prevent ongoing losses and harm to the injured coral habitat.”

The first part of the plan, to triage the affected coral, has already been completed by staff of the DoE and Polaris, the statement read. The triage work includes uprighting, uncovering, securing and moving viable corals to safe locations while work on stabilizing the reef structure is completed.

Beginning Tuesday, the next step in the recovery plan, which is expected to be carried out by the Polaris team, is to stabilize or remove larger rubble and “prevent continued and future damage to nearby living and established resources from the impacts of rubble movement,” but “as much rubble as possible and to the extent practicable will be incorporated onsite, to re-create and retain the original reef structure.”

Work will also be done to try to re-create the lost reef structure, or reduce the appearance of scraping or scarring. Recovery workers will also attempt to rescue and reattach as much living coral as possible “to reduce the time for a full site natural recovery and restore ecosystem services.”

Thereafter, the site will be monitored “to determine the success of the restoration effort in the months and years following completion.”

According to the statement, oversight of the restoration activities will be carried out by Harold Hudson, described as a world leader in restoration of coral habitats and formerly of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who will be engaged by Vulcan but will report to both Vulcan and the DoE. The monitoring of the success of the restoration effort will be carried out under the auspices of the DoE.

“The DoE and Paul G. Allen are deeply committed to ocean health and conservation. Both the DoE and Vulcan have worked hard to ensure that this agreement reflects the best international standards for restoration of coral habitats. They look forward to working together on the restoration,” the statement added.