Planting an ocean garden

KAPAA — Marine biologist Katherine Muzik has been given the green light for a reef restoration pilot project along a dredged area of reef in Kapaa.

“It’s very cool,” she said. “I’m the only marine biologist in the state of Hawaii who has permits to do corals of opportunity.”

Muzik has named her project Mala Moana, Hawaiian for “ocean garden.”

The one-year special activity permit, which Muzik received Friday, allows her to collect and transplant six species of live corals that have been dislodged or fragmented.

In other words, Muzik, along with any assistants she might bring on board, will swim out, pick up broken pieces of corals from the ocean floor and epoxy them back onto the reef.

The project area is located just offshore of the Kapaa Public Library and Moikeha Canal.

The permit goes into effect Jan. 1 and allows Muzik to transplant six coral species: lobe, finger, cauliflower, rice, lace and crust. For each species, she will be allowed to transplant 10 individuals — 60 total — that have “been documented to have naturally fragmented or become dislodged due to wave action, turbidity, boat strikes or anchoring,” as written in the permit.

William Aila, chair of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, signed off on the project last week. He said the experiment will be about determining how valuable these corals of opportunity are.

“We view this desire by Katherine to transplant corals as developing potentially another tool in our toolbox to deal with coral damage, coral disease, in the future,” he said by phone.

As part of the project, Muzik will be required to photo-document all collections and transplants, as well as monitor the growth of fragments after transplantation and any incidences of disease, parasites, invasive organisms and mortalities. An annual report summarizing the results of the project will be due 90 days after the permit expires Jan. 1, 2016.

While recovering corals in that area is important, Muzik views the project as an opportunity to draw attention to and raise awareness about the state of our oceans, which are being bombarded with pollution.

“If we don’t have something out there alive, we’re all going to perish,” she said.

In a previous letter to DLNR officials, Muzik pleaded her case and asked that her educational and environmental project be allowed to move forward.

“I hope our attempts to restore this endangered coral reef will help people understand their past and present environments, and teach them to care for their future,” she wrote. “All year, as I have been describing my Mala Moana project to people I encounter, I have found many local students, fishermen, kupuna, business owners and many tourists too, extremely eager to help learn about, address and resolve this problem!”

For the project, Muzik plans to enlist students and unpaid volunteers to help with surveys, underwater photography, water quality sampling and more. Eventually, she hopes to raise enough money to pay students to help produce brochures, a website and an educational video.

The project area was dredged in 1959 to fill a low and swampy area of Kapaa for pineapple plantation roads, according to Muzik. For that reason, she views it as an ideal location for education.

“Visitors come and they hear the alarming news about Anini, and I can’t fix Anini,” she said. “This is my place.”

Muzik is planning several fundraisers to support the project.

Info: Muzik at kmuzik@gmail.com or 346-6167.

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