Diving the Tires, the St. Anthony and the Z Blocks

Though the sites mentioned in this blog are usually accessed by boat, we scooter dive to the St. Anthony (and the Cars and Z Blocks) off of Keawakapu Beach regularly.

To get to the St. Anthony (the most popular destination in this area), we cruise next to and through the reef to a spot we call “Mushroom Rock“, an excellent, semi-isolated coral head at the edge of the reef where a variety of fish, turtles, and even the occasional white tip stop by for a cleaning.  From there, we head out to the wreck.

To get there, it’s over the halimeda fields we go on our way to the tires. The first deployment of tires, bundled with no concrete, was completed in 1979. In 1989 and 1990, 2170 tires and 35 z blocks were dropped there to expand the artificial reef.  There are piles upon piles of these tires, and despite the briefings I give prior to our departure, divers always seem surprised by what they see when we first arrive.  When we get to the first pile, it’s rather small, but that’s just the start.  As we fly on our scooters, we are surrounded by sergeant major damselfish zooming down to protect their egg masses and clouds of goatfish that spread like fireworks as we approach.

By the time we arrive at the St. Anthony, we have passed dozens of clumps of tires, a school of Heller’s baracudas, plenty of long cornetfish, and more.

At the St. Anthony, we are frequently swarmed by a school of yellow milletseed butterflyfish.  As they approach us head-on, they are so thin that it’s actually difficult to gauge how large the school is until they turn sideways.  Once around the divers, these fish flit and flutter until they figure out that we will not be feeding them (nope, no feeding the fish, but that’s another blog).  

As the mass moves away, divers are tempted to follow them, but divers beware! These clever milletseeds are users! The butterflyfish will lead gullible divers to tires with egg masses which are being guarded by their damsels. Once a diver approaches, the milletseeds abandon the diver and use the distraction we provide to go on a feeding frenzy! Since we want our interactions on the reef to be passive, we urge divers to be aware of this and prevent it when possible.

Finally, it’s time to explore the “wreck”.  The St. Anthony is a small vessel that was intentionally sunk right out from Keawakapu Beach in 1997 to become a part of the existing artificial reef (local divers may remember that the St. Anthony also washed ashore at Ulua Beach just days before it was scheduled to be sunk off of Keawakapu).  The 65 foot long boat sits in 70 feet of water and this dive site is also one of the best fish density locations in Maui.

Divers who are good on air (Nitrox is always a good idea for these sites) may also explore the cars. Cars?  Yes, CARS!  In 1962, the County of Maui was experiencing an overabundance of derelict cars (side of the road, empty lots, people’s driveways) when they learned that Oahu was using cars to create artificial reefs in Maunalua Bay. After obtaining permission from the state to do the same thing on Maui, they decided to drop 150 cars and trucks (all US made models such as Fords, Chevys, Dodges) instead of incurring the costs to ship them to Oahu.  I first encountered these cars over ten years ago when I missed the St. Anthony on a cloudy day (I blame the clouds for messing with my natural navigation skills!).

The cars are scattered about at a depth of between 80-120 feet deep and today they are mostly absorbed back into the ocean floor. It is, however, interesting to note that where there are no longer cars, there are often the very distinctive rectangular outlines in the sand of where a car once WAS. These skeletons are recognizable and often punctuated by a steering wheel sticking out of the sand.  Who knows how much of these vehicles (if any) remain intact beneath the sand and halimeda. 

The latest and most controversial addition to South Maui’s artificial reef system are the concrete z blocks that were dropped in December of 2009. With the artificial reef permit set to expire in just days, a governmental agency saw to it that more artificial reef would be created just before the deadline.

What was supposed to happen versus what actually did remains somewhat murky.  There were safety boats, buoys, and a plan, but somehow the barge that was dropping the modules drifted and ended up dropping some of these blocks on healthy reef.  Instead of making piles and creating a habitat to attract marine life, the modules ended up being more spread out than intended.

Some of the concrete pieces look like modern art and there are ledges and piles that white tip reef sharks like to pass their days under. Despite the fact that there’s not much coral growth to speak of yet, the new reef has indeed attracted schools of fish and a small community of sharks. For now, it is sort of an eerie and strange place to visit, but interesting for these very same reasons.

If you would like to visit any of these sites, we’d be happy to grab the scooters and take you diving!  And, if you have anything else you know about these artificial reefs that you’d like to share, please leave your comments here!

Aloha, Rachel

p.s.  I would like to acknowledge Paul Murakawa from the DLNR who provided me with the correct dates and numbers a couple of years ago when I got curious and sent him a whole list of questions.  

Thanks Paul!