Compensation money paid by Microsoft founder Paul Allen after his yacht damaged coral reef off Grand Cayman is being used to help ensure similar incidents do not happen in future.
The Department of Environment installed the first of four new mega-yacht moorings off West Bay this week.
The giant orange mooring buoy is designed for yachts of 100 feet or more and dwarfs smaller fishing and diving vessels. It took a slick operation involving the Department of Environment and West Indian Marine just to get the 30,000 pound anchor, attached to a coil of 2-inch stud link chain, into the water.
“It is pretty enormous, This first one was a bit of a learning curve because we have never handled anything this big in shipping before,” said Scott Slaybaugh, deputy director of the department.
The operation was led by a Department of Environment research officer with experience in maintaining moorings for supertankers. The anchor was dropped, right on target, in a sandy patch around 40 feet deep.
The Department of Environment plans to place one more mooring in Grand Cayman and two in the Sister Islands.
Mr. Slaybaugh said the buoys would provide secure anchorage for multimillion dollar mega-yachts for the first time in the Cayman Islands.
“We thought it was an appropriate use of the funds from the Tatoosh settlement, to prevent this same type of issue happening again,” he said.
Mr. Allen’s 300-foot luxury yacht, the M/Y Tatoosh, damaged around 13,000 square feet of coral reef habitat within the marine park off Seven Mile Beach in 2016, when its position shifted in strong winds, dragging the anchor chain across the reef.
The yacht was anchored at the time in a designated spot, as directed by the Port Authority.
Mr. Allen’s company agreed to a compensation settlement with the Department of Environment, hiring a contractor to attempt to restore the damaged reef and making funds available for a more secure mooring system.
Mr. Slaybaugh said there had been several cases of yachts damaging coral over the years. He said some were simply through negligence, while others were caused by the failure of skippers to manage their anchor position in shifting weather conditions.
He acknowledged the lack of secure moorings for mega-yachts around the Cayman Islands had contributed to the problem.
Over the last month, 20 yachts have arrived in Cayman, including four in the mega-yacht category, he said.
Until this week there were 10 moorings for visiting yachts of 100 feet or less, but nothing that could safely hold a larger vessel.
The Department of Environment and the Port Authority, which is responsible for managing the moorings, are still discussing potential locations for the other three mega-yacht moorings.