16 July 2021

TIP 18: Ship groundings on coral reefs

When vessels run aground on coral reefs, the localised physical and ecological effects can be both severe and complex. A vessel’s impact on the reef may break and displace coral and other associated marine life. In addition, a grounding will typically result in structural damage to the reef habitat as the coral framework is crushed and flattened by the hull, forming rubble that can smother a wider area. The initial damage can be exacerbated by further movement of the grounded vessel, either due to exposure to strong swells or from re-float attempts. Further impacts can also be caused by jettisoned cargo, towlines, prop wash or anchors. It is beneficial for those involved in the response, and other stakeholders, to be aware of mitigation measures to reduce damage to these sensitive habitats.

Groundings typically require initial damage assessments through underwater surveys, with potential further monitoring over a period of time to track the recovery of the affected site. In some cases, it may also be necessary to implement restoration measures to accelerate the recovery of the habitat.

This paper describes the effects of groundings on coral reefs and provides guidance on response strategies to reduce the severity of damage, survey techniques and restoration measures.

(This paper is currently available in English only.)

: Technical Information Paper (TIPS)

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