July 4th Floatilla raises concern for officials, environmental advocates

July 4 Floatilla raises concern for officials, environmental advocates

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Waikiki "floatillas" originally started when friends and family members used to hang out in the water to cheer on participants in the McFarland Regatta on the Fourth of July.

Over the years, they've expanded to other holiday weekends, growing bigger and rowdier.

It's illegal to drink alcohol on the beach or while operating a watercraft, but it's not illegal while on a float in the water - a distinction that often attracts large, young crowds.

The oceanfront of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was a mess after Memorial Day, as floats and trash littered the beach.

"I think it's a serious issue when people disrespect our aina that much. I've never seen anything quite like that in Waikiki on the beach. It was bad," David Moscowitz, a Waikiki community advocate, said.

One of the challenges officials say they face is the fact there isn't usually someone to hold accountable. "Floatillas" are planned on social media or among friends.

"The properties who bordered the beach and the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association ended up having to clean it up," said Rick Egged, the Waikiki Improvement Association President. "With no event and no event organizer to hold responsible the only thing you can do is ask people to be responsible and take care of themselves."

Sustainable Coastlines has been cleaning up during Fourth of July "floatillas" for the last four years and has removed more than 1,500 pounds of trash.

"Here we are trying to show people how to lead by example and clean up after themselves and think about what they bring to an event so it doesn't create trash and these people are ruining it for us," said Kahi Pacarro, the Executive Director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

Waikiki community leaders say they don't think these gatherings are bad and rules like those restricting drinking at Ahu O Laka, or the Kaneohe sandbar, on Holiday weekends should be a last resort.

"I would hesitate to say that we need more regulation. That's as long as they act responsibly. I don't think that it's a major problem but if we start to get into incidents where people get injured or drowned or get into fights, then maybe then we'll have to look at something," said Egged.

"If they can enforce no drinking elsewhere on Holiday weekends, then why not here?" Moscowitz echoed.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has jurisdiction over state waters. They say Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) officers have been working with HPD to enforce all applicable laws, including citing people for open containers, having alcohol on the beach and fighting.

DLNR officials say DOCARE and HPD have met to make plans for "keeping the peace" and ensuring the safety of everyone during any upcoming events.

A statement sent to Hawaii News Now by a DLNR spokesperson says restrictions for Ahu o Laka were implemented as "a special case based on numerous incidents several years ago of out-of-control behavior at the sandbar during holidays".

As for how many citations have been issued in relation to "floatilla" events in Waikiki, Hawaii News Now was initially told "it's not something any particular individual has had their fingertips."

Later a DLNR spokesperson provided details on two events near Waikiki in 2013. During one incident on March 30, "DOCARE participated in a joint operation after learning about a scheduled Floatopia at Magic Island and/or Kaimana.

After numerous reports of assaults, sexual assaults, intoxication, and under-aged drinking, a zero-tolerance approach was deemed necessary to ensure public safety.

DOCARE had 11 waterborne officers and 5 officers on the beach fronting Kaimana. About 1000+ people were estimated to be at Kaimana Beach. DOCARE officers issued warnings for disorderly conduct after breaking up two fights in the water.

HPD issued numerous citations and 1 arrest for probation violations and investigated a sexual assault," DLNR Senior Communications manager Dan Dennison said.

DLNR officials say restrictions in Waikiki similar to those at Ahu o Laka would be difficult to impose in a broader, less confined open ocean area.

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