When the steady stream of tourists visiting Hawaii came to a grinding halt earlier this year, many commercial dive tour operators faced a dilemma.
For places on the Big Island like Jack’s Diving Locker, Mauna Lani Sea Adventures and Kohala Divers, the sudden stop in commercial operations meant generating income through tours was no longer an option. These organizations, along with a handful of Maui operators, were able to partner with the nonprofit Malama Kai Foundation in the spring for a project that kept their workers employed through May while saving the state an estimated $150,000.
Funded by the Paycheck Protection Program, these companies inspected a total of 148 of Hawaii’s Day-use Mooring Buoys (DMBs) surrounding Maui and the Big Island. Malama Kai Foundation was able to provide materials, and their partners provided the labor.
“Anchor damage is a key threat to coral reefs around the world, according to the International Coral Reef Initiative and the US Coral Reef Task Force,” the Malama Kai Foundation said in a press release. “Boaters around Hawaii appreciate the importance of reliable day use moorings and their positive benefits for passenger and vessel safety as well as the preservation of our coral reef systems.”
Taking advantage of the lack of traffic on the water, divers from each company inspected the DMBs – 83 around the Big Island and 65 around Maui County – by cleaning, photographing, measuring and logging maintenance for each buoy. The maintenance ensures DMBs around the state remain in good shape. The project logged a total of 820 hours of labor and 41 boat days on the water, racking up an estimated cost – if left to the state – of nearly $150,000.
“It was a great way to ensure that the workers of those companies had things to do and get the moorings inspected during this slow time,” said Malama Kai Foundation’s executive director Brad Stubbs. “It was calculated that they could do it for significantly less than it would require for a commercial organization to do it through a state contract…The cost was very, very minimal, to be honest.”
While maintenance for DMBs is a community effort, the commercial dive companies who use them on a regular basis are often better equipped and more experienced to properly perform the job.
“When anyone hooks up to a day-use mooring buoy, you’re personally responsible to make sure it’s in an operable condition,” Stubbs said. “A lot of the organizations realize that not every recreational user probably does that, or if they do, they might not have a watchful eye to really know what they should be looking for.”
Recognizing that this solution was a temporary one for dive tour operators, the Malama Kai Foundation has continued to search for ways to help its partners as the pandemic progressed. Their latest project, funded by the CARES Act, looks to partner with Jack’s Diving Locker and the Nakoa Foundation to provide childcare activities focused on marine education and Hawaiian culture in the near future.
“We’re looking at ways, to not only prop up companies that we normally work with, but also providing the education program for the kids,” Stubbs said. “Schools are shut down and there’s a lot of parents that have childcare need.”
Though the project isn’t yet finalized, Stubbs hopes to have more information out to the public soon.