The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has been charged with better ensuring ocean safety along West and South Maui shores that have seen an increase in competing uses by swimmers, paddlers, divers, fisherman and boaters.
The December 2011 death of Lahaina diver and paddler William Gonzales in waters 200 yards off Hanakaoo Beach prompted legislation from Maui lawmakers to address safety concerns.
Gonzales died after suffering critical injuries when he was struck by a 19-foot recreational ski boat as he was placing flags for a canoe regatta.
"The increased recreational and commercial activities in Hawaii's nearshore waters have led to safety concerns, especially on the island of Maui," states one of two bills addressing ocean safety concerns. "In 2011, there were at least four reported accidents involving swimmers and divers being struck by boats," including two fatalities in Maui County waters.
In addition to Gonzales, a Lanai free diver was fatally struck by a motorized zodiac boat outside the break wall at Kaumalapau Harbor on Lanai.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie recently signed House Bill 2871 and Senate Bill 2933 into law. Both measures took effect Sunday.
House Bill 2871, sponsored by state Rep. Angus McKelvey, who represents West Maui, requires the DLNR to establish a five-member advisory committee made up of various ocean enthusiasts in the community. The group will advise the department on its so-called West Maui Ocean Recreation Management Area.
"The need arose out of the tragedy that occurred with Mr. Gonzales," McKelvey said. "As a result, we heard of the need for physical buoys, as well as stories of conflicting uses in the area."
He noted that DLNR's rules for the West Maui Ocean Recreation Management Area date back to the 1990s.
"There hasn't been a review to see if there are any holes, or an effort to educate both users and enforcement officers as far as what areas are specifically for certain activities," McKelvey said.
The new law requires the DLNR to establish the advisory committee - with representatives for swimming, paddling, surfing, commercial boating and fishing interests - by Sept. 1. The committee dissolves in 2015.
"The outcome I'd like to see is that we have a set of rules that are clear and concise and sends a consistent message to users, with input and feedback from the community," McKelvey said. "We don't just want buoys out there as a false sense of security if there's no enforcement."
The Honolulu-based Ocean Tourism Coalition and Maui County Council Members Bob Carroll and Elle Cochran testified in support of the bill.
DLNR Director William Aila testified that past efforts to create a similar advisory group were unsuccessful because of a lack of participation from the community. But, he said, "the department is willing to work with the community to re-establish a committee to ensure the safety of ocean waters and participants of nearshore recreational and commercial activities."
Senate Bill 2933, sponsored by Sen. Roz Baker, who represents West and South Maui, requires that the DLNR come up with stricter rules for the safety of ocean users.
"The rules shall include, but not be limited to, the creation of safe zones for free divers and swimmers and stricter enforcement of boating regulations around swim zone buoys," the bill states.
The measure also appropriates $20,000 for DLNR to install eight swim zone buoys at Kamaole Beach in Kihei.
"With populations continuing to climb, it has become even more apparent that added protection to both swimmers and boaters needed to be implemented," Baker said in a statement.
The state's Marine and Coastal Zone Advocacy Council and paddling association No Ohana O Na Hui Waa testified in support of Senate Bill 2933. Maui County Council Members Don Couch and Riki Hokama also supported the measure.
The bill calls for the same type of community group as House Bill 2871 to advise DLNR on the West Maui Ocean Recreation Management Area.
"The end result should be a smoother functioning area where people can go out and use the water safely without accidents stemming from conflicting uses," McKelvey said.
* House Bill 2871: www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=2871
* Senate Bill 2933: www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=2933
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.