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R S Weeks (Revised 6/30/2016

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R S Weeks
Cable Drag Incident, West Palm Beach, Florida
Assessment Report
DATE OF INCIDENT:
DATES OF INJURY ASSESSMENT:
LOCATION OF INJURY:
APPROX. LAT / LONG RANGE:
APPROX. LINEAR DISTANCE:
APPROX. DAMAGE AREA:

3/27/2016
4/5/2016, 4/8/2016, 4/28/2016
Offshore of West Palm Beach, FL
N Extent: N 26° 42.756’ / W 80° 00.901’
S Extent: N 26° 41.581’ / W 80° 01.014’
2,186 m
63.73 m2

NAME & DESCRIPTION OF VESSEL
R S Weeks, Dredge Vessel
Dimensions: 86m long by 20m wide by 5.4m draught
Identifiers: IMO 2490368, MMSI 366955430, Call Sign WCK9505
INTRODUCTION
On 3/29/2016, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) received an email from
Ed Tichenor of Reef Rescue reporting coral reef damage offshore Palm Beach County. Tichenor
stated that he had been notified of coral reef damaged in 2 locations near the popular dives sites
Flower Garden’s Reef, Breaker’s Reef, and Ron’s Rock. John Christopher Fine observed coral
reef damage on 3/27/2016 and provided GPS coordinates of the damage range (N 26° 42.844’ / W
80° 00.949’ and N 26° 42.539’ / W 80° 00.910’). Fine also submitted photos and a personal
summary description of the damage. Little Deeper Dive Charter reported that their divers observed
coral reef damage on 3/27/2016 and provided GPS coordinates of their dive location (N 26°
41.890’ / W 80° 00.903’ and N 26° 41.766 / W 80° 01.038’). These reported damage coordinates
are referenced in Figure 1. Tichenor also expressed suspicion that the injury event could have been
associated with a tug and barge transiting over the reef tract, specifically the vessel R S Weeks, as
substantiated by a vessel track he pulled from MarineTraffic.com. This information was directed
to DEP’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) Reef Injury Prevention and Response (RIPR)
Program and used to investigate the incident.
After reviewing multiple vessel tracks on MarineTraffic.com and PortVision® during the 3/263/27/2016 (see Figure 2) time frame, including tug vessel Candace, and comparing them to the
reported damage coordinates using Esri ArcGIS (GIS) software, the RIPR Program determined the
R S Weeks vessel to be the likely responsible party. The vessel Candace appeared to be towing the
R S Weeks, as the vessel tracks ran parallel in several areas. The RIPR Program then coordinated
with Resource Trustees and partner agencies to plan site visits to the reported damage areas.
On 4/6/2016, Ed Tichenor submitted additional photos and videos of coral reef damage to DEP.
The new photos and video were taken by Damien McKinney on 4/5/2016 and passed to Tichenor
through Van and Nina Blakeman of Narcosis Divers.

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R S Weeks (Revised 6/30/2016)

Figure 1. This map shows the DEP assessment dive track as well as the R S Weeks vessel
track from 3/27/2016. Coral reef damage was observed along this dive track between the
northern and southern extent coordinate points. The green stars are reported damage
coordinates. 1a and 1b were submitted by Little Deeper Dive Charter and coordinates 2a and
2b were submitted by John Christopher Fine.
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R S Weeks (Revised 6/30/2016)

Figure 2. This map shows the MarineTraffic position history track of vessel R S Weeks from
3/26/2016 – 3/27/2016. The red box indicates the location where coral reef damage was
observed, shown in relation to the vessel track.
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R S Weeks (Revised 6/30/2016)
METHODOLOGY
Site assessments of the area were performed by the RIPR Program, Resource Trustees, and partner
agencies on 4/5/2016, 4/8/2016, and 4/28/2016; see Figure 1 for dive track.
On 4/5/2016, DEP joined Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff on
their boat for the site visits. The dive team left from the Phil Foster boat ramp in Riviera Beach,
Florida. A total of 3 assessment dives were performed on 4/5/2016.
• Mollie Sinnott (DEP RIPR) – Diver
• Melissa Sathe (DEP RIPR) – Diver
• Joanna Walczak (DEP Florida Coastal Office) – Diver
• Lauren Waters (DEP CRCP) – Diver
• Jena McNeal (Palm Beach County Environmental Resource Management - PBC ERM) –
Diver
• Erick Ault (FWC) – Captain
On 4/8/2016, DEP joined FWC staff again on their boat for more site visits. The dive team left
from the Phil Foster boat ramp in Riviera Beach, Florida. A total of 3 assessment dives were
performed on 4/8/2016.
• Mollie Sinnott (DEP RIPR) – Diver
• Lauren Waters (DEP CRCP) – Diver
• Grant Stoecklin (FWC) – Standby Diver
• JJ Brodbeck (FWC) – Captain
On 4/28/2016, DEP joined PBC ERM staff on their boat for additional site visits. The dive team
left from the Palm Beach Yacht Club in Lake Worth, Florida. A total of 3 assessment dives were
performed on 4/28/2016.
• Mollie Sinnott (DEP RIPR) – Diver
• Melissa Sathe (DEP RIPR) – Diver
• Jena McNeal (PBC ERM) – Diver
• Lucas Coffield (PBC ERM) – Diver
• Thomas Steinhoff (PBC ERM) – Captain
After overlaying the reported injury area coordinates (from John Christopher Fine and Little
Deeper Dive Charters) and MarineTraffic.com vessel tracks over DEP’s benthic habitat layers in
GIS, several locations were identified as areas of interest based on their high likelihood of damage.
Dives were conducted in teams of 2 and the divers used scooters to search for injury in a south to
north orientation, following the current. Within the dive team, diver 1 was designated to collect
data and take photos and diver 2 followed with a reel to tow a float at the surface with a GPS unit
recording the dive track. Diver 1 tallied all damaged reef resources, noted organism size, and wore
a waterproof watch synced with the GPS unit in order to denote injury locations on the swim track.
During each dive the respective vessel captain recorded several diver position points as a backup
to the towable GPS unit.
On 4/5/2016 during the first dive, the dive team located damage and began following a linear path
of damage north along the reef tract. The subsequent dive teams continued to follow this damage
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trail on 4/5/2016 and again on 4/8/2016. Damage to reef resources was confirmed in both GPS
location ranges from the initial incident report. The RIPR Program overlaid the dive assessment
swim tracks with the MarineTraffic.com vessel tracks and benthic habitat maps in GIS (see Figure
1). The assessment dive swim track, following a linear path of damage up the reef tract, lined up
directly with the R S Weeks vessel track from 3/27/2016. Therefore, additional potential damage
locations were estimated based on the continuation of the R S Weeks vessel track over reef habitat.
These additional points, north of previously observed damage, were investigated by dive teams on
4/28/2016 but no additional damage to reef resources was observed.
DESCRIPTION OF INJURY
Based on the site assessment dives, the damage to reef resources appears to have been caused by
a dragging cable, or similar object. This supports the original predication that the damage was
caused by a tug and barge transiting over the reef tract, specifically the R S Weeks vessel. A line
of displaced sand and rubble (roughly several inches wide) was clearly visible along the damage
path in areas of sand, and continued onto reef habitat with a path still visible on the algae and
hardbottom substrate. Along this drag line, damage to reef resources was observed, including
damage to barrel sponges (Xestospongia muta), Scleractinian (stony) coral colonies, and
octocorals. Organism damage ranged from Category 1 to Category 3 severity as described in Table
1, and included dislodging, scrapping, and varying levels of shearing upon contact with the vessel’s
dragging cable. The most extensive organism damage occurred on barrel sponges, with damage
severity ranging from notching the edge to fully shearing the sponge from the substrate. The
sheared sponges displayed white tissue at the injury points, indicating that the injury was recent.
See the Appendix for photographic documentation. There were also clumps of dislodged, tangled
ocotocorals observed in the damage path, but due to the high mobility of octocorals and sheared
sponge fragments, it is expected that many damaged organisms had already been (and will continue
to be) swept away by the current. In addition to the documented organism damage, there were 2
locations where damage to the hardbottom substrate was observed, but it was relatively superficial.
Table 1. Total number of injured organisms by type. Sponges are broken into 3 damage categories
based on severity: Category 1 (<10% damage), Category 2 (10% - 75% damage), and Category 3
(75% - 100% damage).
Organism Type
Total Number Observed
Sponges, Damage Category 1
36
Sponges, Damage Category 2
41
Sponges, Damage Category 3
142
Octocorals
90
Stony Corals
25
Total Organisms Injured
334
This cable drag incident occurred within State waters and resulted in direct injuries to barrel
sponges (X. muta), Scleractinian coral colonies, and octocorals. More specifically, the cable drag
incident occurred in a hardbottom coral reef community characterized by the visual dominance of
sponges, Scleractinian corals, and octocorals on a low relief limestone platform. Water depths
ranged from approximately 50 ft. to 70 ft. in the injury area and in the adjacent habitat, with a

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depth drop off on the eastern side. The injury path was a total of 2,186 linear meters, as calculated
between the northern and southern damage extent GPS coordinates (see Figure 1 and Table 3).
Damage along the path was patchy in spots, but other areas appeared to be more continuous. The
total damage area of injured organisms was calculated based on damage categories and organism
size classes resulting in up to 63.73 m2 total impacted area (see Table 2).
Table 2: Total area of injured organisms by type.
Organism Type
Sponges, Damage Category 1
Sponges, Damage Category 2
Sponges, Damage Category 3
Octocorals
Stony Corals
Total Area of Organisms Impacted
Table 3: Damage totals for RS Weeks incident.
Damage Totals
Number of Organisms Injured
Linear Length of Damage
Total Impacted Area

Damage Area
7.90 m²
8.64 m²
42.61 m²
2.81 m²
1.77 m²
63.73 m2

334
2,186 m
63.73 m2

The nature of the injury is such that biological triage can be done to minimize the lost ecological
services provided by the injured organisms. While some of the sponges will eventually regrow,
the loss of this habitat may be the greatest injury resulting from this event. Efforts should be made
to triage and stabilize any remaining stony corals, octocorals, and sheared sponge barrels. Beyond
triage and stabilization, no additional restoration is recommended.
The loss of reef related habitat decreases the value of the reef. The economic and ecological value
of these reefs represents a significant monetary interest to the State of Florida and Palm Beach
County. It is in the best interest of all parties involved to prevent further degradation of this habitat
and to mitigate the damage that has already occurred.

Mollie Sinnott
Reef Injury Prevention and Response (RIPR) Coordinator
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Coral Reef Conservation Program
1277 NE 79th Street Causeway
Miami, Florida 33138
Phone: 305-795-2167
Fax: 305-795-3470
Email: Mollie.Sinnott@dep.state.fl.us
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R S Weeks (Revised 6/30/2016)
APPENDIX

Photo 1: Partially sheared sponge with white
tissue exposed and a line of displaced sand in
the background (4/5/2016, Dive #1).

Photo 3: Linear path of displaced sand
(4/5/2016, Dive #1).

Photo 4: Large loose fragment of a fully
sheared sponge with white tissue exposed,
and a ½ m stick for scale (4/5/2016, Dive #2)

Photo 2: Partially sheared sponge with white
tissue exposed, loose sponge fragments, and
a ½ m stick for scale (4/5/2015, Dive #1).

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R S Weeks (Revised 6/30/2016)

Photo 5: Dislodged, overturned stony coral
with a ½ m stick for scale (4/5/2016, Dive
#2).

Photo 7: Large loose fragment of a fully
sheared sponge with a ½ m stick for scale
(4/5/2016, Dive #3).

Photo 6: Fully sheared sponges with white
tissue exposed in a noticeable damage path,
with a ½ m stick for scale (4/5/2016, Dive
#3).
Photo 8: Overhead view of a fully sheared
sponge with a ½ m stick for scale (4/8/2016,
Dive #1).

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Photo 9: A clump of tangled, dislodged
ocotocorals next to a partially sheared sponge
(4/8/2016, Dive #2).

Photo 12: Sponge with partial shearing and
notched damage, suggestive of a dragging
cable (4/8/2016, Dive #3).

Photo 10: Large loose fragment of a fully
sheared sponge with white tissue exposed
(4/8/2016, Dive #2).

Photo 13: Damage path of partially and fully
sheared sponges and dislodged octocorals
(4/8/2016, Dive #3).

Photo 11: Sponge with notched damage,
suggestive of a dragging cable (4/8/2016,
Dive #3).

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