Recent Maui ocean-related deaths raise questions

The Page A1 Feb. 4 article about the rash of deaths of tourists from snorkeling caught my eye. This is not a new thing — the number of deaths here has been shocking for years. The deaths over the last few weeks have been extraordinarily high and make it more obvious that there is something amiss.

The obvious thing that goes unmentioned in these cases is: Are the deaths due to drowning? There seems to be an assumption that they are all drowning since they occur in the ocean. But snorkel tubes alter the mix of carbon dioxide that we breathe, and that affects the body in other ways. My personal concern is not that these are drownings, which are somewhat preventable, but that snorkeling is bad for people with certain pre-existing heart or physical conditions due to the way it alters breathing.

As a former scientist, this situation intrigued me, and I contacted the Hawaii Department of Vital Records last year to find out what tourists are dying from as well as looking at what is happening on Oahu and other islands. They would not give me the data I needed, but it is obvious somebody with authority needs to look into this. In particular, if people are dying from snorkeling and those deaths are not drowning, that is something that visitors need to be made aware of.

Scott Werden