Microsoft Co-Founder's Yacht Tears Up Protected Coral Reef in Cayman Islands

Paul Allen’s 330-foot vessel destroyed 80% of the reef in a protected zone.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

A yacht owned by Microsoft co-founder and marine conservationist Paul Allen has ploughed into a sensitive reef in the Cayman Islands, destroying the majority of coral on the protected ecosystem.

The MV Tatoosh, a 300ft yacht owned by the billionaire Allen, ripped up 14,000 square feet of coral reef in the West Bay replenishment zone, according to local officials. About 80% of the reef, situated in a protected area, was destroyed by the ship’s chain. It is thought that Allen was not on board at the time. 

According to a statement from Allen’s investment firm Vulcan, the incident occurred on 14 January. “When [the MV Tatoosh] crew was alerted by a diver that her anchor chain may have impacted coral in the area, the crew promptly, and on their own accord, relocated their position to ensure the reef was protected,” it said, adding that the crew was aiding investigations into the damage.

The incident is particularly embarrassing for Allen given his foundation’s work supporting marine conservation and tackling overfishing. The damage to the reef could prompt a fine of up to $600,000, although Allen is likely to be able to easily foot the bill, given his net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $17.4bn.

Allen will have to dig a little deeper to match the $2.5m that Napster founder and tech investor Sean Parker paid to remediate damage caused to a redwood grove in California. Parker’s unauthorized development activities, undertaken for his wedding in 2013, involved constructing a stone bridge, pond, staircases and ruins to create the appearance of a ruined castle.

The Cayman Islands has had several run-ins with large vessels in recent years. Carnival Cruise made a one-off donation after one of its cruise ships damaged part of the George Town harbor in 2014. Last year, a large tract of coral reef was destroyed by the Zenith, a Pullmantur cruise ship, but no fines or donations were paid. 

A spokesperson for the Cayman Island’s department of environment said it was “paying close attention to lessons learned so that we can more effectively prevent these accidents while still hosting visiting yachts”.

Oliver Milman is a news reporter for Guardian Australia based in Melbourne. He was previously a freelance contributor to the Guardian's environment section.

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