His mooring-buoy embedment technology protects reefs from anchors the world over
John Halas’ Sea Hero credentials are so numerous a paragraph can barely contain them—Vietnam vet who has returned to that country five times since the war to help it create a system of marine protected areas; first full-time employee of what became the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; 32-year veteran of that sanctuary as a manager and marine biologist. But it’s something he did in 1981 for which the name Halas will be remembered in the underwater world. Observing the damage done to coral reefs day in and day out by boat anchors, he created a system for mooring buoys that was simple and cost-effective to install and use. Today, nearly 40 years and thousands of mooring buoys later, untold acres of coral reef in more than 38 countries from the Cayman Islands to Malaysia have been protected by Halas’ system, which helped create a culture where mooring buoys are the industry standard, accessible to all, and preferred practice for responsible boaters everywhere.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge in installing a mooring buoy?
A: On reefs covered with branching corals, it’s difficult to locate a suitable place to drill. Sometimes the most difficult part is dealing with equipment and materials shipping delays, including customs holdups when I’m in other countries.
Q: What persuades a destination that it’s time for mooring buoys?
A: Usually persuasion is not an issue, but when dive resort customers point out anchor damage caused by the resort boat, that is persuasion enough. In addition, there’s peer pressure when they see other countries and marine protected areas use a mooring-buoy system. Availability of funding then becomes the main hurdle.
Q: Do coral reefs still stand a chance, both in Florida and worldwide, and how can divers and readers help?
A: Yes. Recovery of faster-growing elkhorn corals has been observed on
quality. And while a lot of MPAs are established to maintain healthy fish stocks, the difficulty can be telling fishermen that traditional areas may be restricted. In the Florida Keys, we’ve found that mooring buoys and zone buoys have helped resolve issues between user groups.
Q: What’s been your most satisfying moment?
A: Completing mooring-buoy projects in Vietnam, 30-plus years after my initial trip as an Army infantry unit commander. It was very fulfilling to return not as a combat leader but as a marine environmental leader and adviser to help a country and its people endeavor to protect their environment.
A: In the water off Indonesia’s Komodo Island, installing a mooringbuoy embedment anchor and hearing and feeling the concussion from notso-far-away illegal dynamite fishing.
And your most surprising moment?
A: For the past few years, I’ve been engaged in water sampling and buoy maintenance related to an ocean acidification monitoring buoy off Islamorada, Florida. The project is administered and conducted through NOAA’s Coral Health and Monitoring Program (CHAMP), at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory research institute in Miami. In addition, I’ve been working contractually with the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize. For the past several years, CCCCC has been collaborating with the NOAA-CHAMP Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) to establish oceanographic and meteorological monitoring stations. We are using my mooring buoy-embedment anchor technology to install CREWS scientific monitoring stations in the waters around eight Caribbean island nations in the western Atlantic and Caribbean as well as Belize, as part of our mission to support the Caribbean people as they address the effects of climate change.
What’s next for John Halas?