A large piece of coral near the island of Curacao was severely damaged. The perpetrator is believed to be construction company BAM, who is currently building a pier for cruise ships and other large vessels on the island, NOS reports.

The damage was noticed by employees of a diving school, who saw two BAM ships dragging anchors. They contacted research institute Carmabi, who investigated. According to the institute’s initial estimates, the damage covers a strip of seabed in shallow water that is about 542 meters long and an average of 50 meters wide. Carmabi works to preserve the reef. Coral in the area is internationally protected under the Cartagena treaty and can only be broken with a specific license.

Carmabi scientific director Mark Vermeij dove to the reef and found severe damage to an 3.7 hectare area of healthy and living coral. Two long trenches can be seen in the coral, going in the direction of the pier. According to Vermeij, it looks like the ships dragged two anchors – intended to hold the feet of the pier – through the seabed, instead of hoisting them up for transport. “Compare it with aerial photographs of a neighborhood that has been ravaged by a tornado”, he said to the broadcaster. “Everything is messed up and its hard to see what is still stuck.” Carmabi volunteers are currently more accurately investigating the damage and saving what can be saved.

BAM told NOS that they are taking these allegations very seriously. “We are investigating the extent [of the damage] and the connection to our activities. If it turns out that the damage is caused by our work, we will see what we can do.” a spokesperson said. Merijn Loose, temporary deputy project manager for BAM on Curacao, told the broadcaster that they are awaiting further investigation. He added that all activities that could cause such damage has been suspended until further notice. “We do not want to risk doing something that could cause any further damage.” The work on land continues, as it holds no risk of underwater damage.

The Curacao Ports Authority, who ordered the construction of the pier, has been informed of the situation. Director Humberto de Castro has spoken to both Carmabi and BAM. “Everything indicates that it was indeed caused by BAM, I can find no other explanation.” De Castro said to NOS. He learned that the area where it happened is not involved in BAM’s construction works and calls that worrying. But he first wants to investigate the exact location of the damage before saying anything further. He adds that there is no sign that the coral reef was damaged on purpose. “But at the end of the day, the person who caused the damage must be held responsible.”

Vermeij also doesn’t believe that BAM intentionally damaged the coral. “They were also surprised, that is not how they normally work. It looks to me like a case of gross negligence.”