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MPD: ‘The ocean is not closed’

Beachgoers question new rules and coastal access

Beachgoers pass closure signs to access Charley Young Park in Kihei. Beaches and sidewalks had a moderate to light amount of people Wednesday, the first day of new emergency public health rules to stay at home and work from home. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photos

KIHEI — Social distancing is possible — even when there’s surf, county officials said Wednesday.

“The ocean is a big place,” said Maui police spokeswoman Lt. Audra Sellers, who added that surfers can find room to stay 6 feet apart.

Sellers said she had been asked about 10 times earlier in the day about whether the coastline and the ocean is off-limits in the wake of the new “stay at home, work from home” emergency rules to curb coronavirus cases.

“I can emphatically tell you that the ocean is not closed,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “The beach is not closed.”

County beach parks, along with other inland county parks, and their facilities are closed, though. She said people should not sit, park, cross or congregate at county parks during this time. Restrooms are closed, but port-a-potties have been installed for sanitary reasons.

Surfers accessed the south swell Wednesday in Kihei

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino’s emergency rules urge people to stay at home and leave only for essential reasons through April 30. The Maui Police Department is leading enforcement, where violations can carry the weight of a misdemeanor. However, citation is a last resort and officers, instead, aim to educate, officials have said.

The county order did say that walking, running and bicycling is OK, when social distancing measures are used.

Still, rules have been confusing for beachgoers, especially surfers, divers and other water enthusiasts, said Steve Coralle.

The Pukalani resident said Wednesday that people want to follow the rules to keep people safe and avoid citation, however, coastal guidelines are unclear.

“Stress is happening left and right,” he said. “There are a lot of people who can’t go to work . . . They keep saying walking and running is OK. But for a lot of people that’s not how they de-stress — it’s jumping quick in the ocean or going for a quick surf.”

He showed a recent video of a county park officer on the cliffside near Hookipa Beach Park handing out flyers to beachgoers. Coralle said the officer told people that the “ocean is closed.”

County spokesman Chris Sugidono said he wasn’t familiar with the specific incident, but said that county park officers are not instructed to tell people the ocean is closed.

“Park security officers have been passing out the public health rules to people around the beach to notify them that the county beach parks are closed,” he said Wednesday night. “They are aware the ocean is not closed, and the public can still surf, windsurf, swim and do other exercise activities for their personal health but must practice social distancing.”

Sugidono said park security officers are aligned with law enforcement efforts countywide to take a “compassionate approach” and educate people about the new Public Health Emergency Rules.

“We understand that this is a difficult time for many of our residents, who regularly exercise outdoors and in the ocean,” he added.

Lifeguards will continue to respond to beachgoers in distress and also are informed to discuss rules about the county beach parks.

Sugidono said the county wants people to exercise and stay healthy with activities that include surfing, if social distancing measures are taken. He encouraged a positive — not a restrictive — mindset on the rules, which will help foster community health in the long run.

“We are encouraging the positive things that come from limiting nonessentials,” he said. “The more work we do now in limiting our contact with others, the better we will be in the long term.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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