On January 29, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) completed a $5.5 million conservation project to remove three wrecked ships, weighing a total of one million pounds, from protected wildlife areas in the Pacific Ocean. The restoration project is part of an ongoing investigation to see how shipwrecks damage the coral reefs and how fast the reefs can recover after the vessels are removed.
The three ships, which all sank within the past 15 years, were in the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge and caused miles of damage to two important coral reefs: Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef. These wildlife refuges, located in the 2,575-mile stretch between Hawaii and American Samoa, are home to 176 species of coral and 418 types of reef fish. As the seawater absorbed iron from the ship’s body, a condition called “black reef” developed. Iron attracts invasive species to the area, such as corallimorph or algae, that kill anything that can’t get out of it’s way. The invasive species of algae takes over the area, obstructing the view of the many different coral species underneath. The removal started in November 2013 and lasted under January 2014. The FWS held “Coral 101” classes to ensure that the contractors working on the site were educated on the importance of saving coral reefs. The crew of 16 contractors cut and removed the wreckage without causing any further damage to the reefs.
The salvage was brought to California to be recycled. Now that the shipwrecks have been removed, researchers predict it will take a few years for the reefs to recover. The Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef can now be used as a control group to help scientists discover how to help wounded reef’s recover. MORE