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Reef Restoration Wreck Removal Project

Shipwreck PartsThe removal of the shipwrecks and coral reef recovery work at Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef National Wildlife Refuges is the one of the largest and most complex coral reef recovery projects in the Pacific Ocean. 

Refuge staff, together with our contracting partners, recently completed an important phase in our coral reef restoration at Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef Refuges, with the removal of three abandoned shipwrecks. Removing the wrecks will reduce iron nutrients in the water and improve wildlife habitat in the areas.

The iron in the shipwrecks on these remote atolls was fueling the growth of invasive organisms—corallimorph at Palmyra Atoll and a filamentous algae at Kingman Reef—that have smothered a large amount of once-healthy, diverse coral. Iron leaching into the environment led to an ecological phase shift and contributed to “black reef,” a phenomenon in which a reef with high coral diversity transforms into a dark brown or black reef dominated by a single species. Coral reefs within the two central Pacific Refuges represent some of the most pristine coral reef habitat in the world. Removing the wrecks is the first phase in the Service’s efforts to restore healthy reef habitats at the wreck sites.

Removing the wrecks is the first phase in the Service’s efforts to restore healthy reef habitats at the wreck sites.

To accomplish this complex operation, the Service enlisted the marine salvage expertise of Global Diving and Salvage of Seattle, Washington and Curtin Maritime of Long Beach, California, and collaborated with multiple partner agencies including The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy owns the largest island at Palmyra and operates a research station there in conjunction with the Service and the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium.

Plans are underway to initiate the next phase of the reef restoration project by control and removal of the invasive species at each site. With the shipwrecks gone, the otherwise very healthy reefs will have the opportunity to recover from the onslaught of added nutrients and the explosion of invasive corallimorph and algae. Removing the harmful shipwrecks delivers tangible benefits for healthier coral ecosystems. By removing the wrecks and invasive species, Refuge Managers are giving these reefs the best chance to adapt to global climate and oceanographic changes. Throughout the restoration project, scientists and Refuge managers will continue to monitor the status and health of the reef ecosystems.

Coral reefs at Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef Refuges support a fully structured, predator-dominated food web and the highest biological diversities of U.S. coral reefs. Because of their isolation, the reefs are removed from other human-induced impacts such as overfishing, coastal runoff, and pollution. More than 176 species of hard corals are found at both Palmyra and Kingman, compared to 65 species in the Hawaiian Islands and 45 species in the Florida Keys. With the shipwrecks gone, the otherwise healthy reefs will have the opportunity to recover from the onslaught of added nutrients and the explosion of invasive corallimorph and algae.

 

Learn more:

Learn about the three shipwrecks and removal operations.

View photos of the wreck removal operations.

Last Updated: Jul 23, 2014
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