Thrill seekers jumping into polluted Ala Wai Canal waters spark major health concerns

A viral video of thrill seekers swimming in Ala Wai Canal sparks health concerns.
Published: Jun. 21, 2023 at 10:21 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 21, 2023 at 10:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A viral video of thrill seekers swimming in the notoriously polluted Ala Wai Canal is sparking major health concerns.

Video posted from a highrise on Monday shows someone in a chair being pushed off the platform at the McCully Bridge into the brown waters of the canal. In another video, you can hear a man shocked by what he just saw: A woman swimming in the waterway.

Bert Sing, assistant coach at the Kamehameha Canoe Club, said he knows people who have gotten staph infections from coming into contact with Ala Wai waters. Paddlers like Sing and Coach Joe Giovannini, of the Waikiki Beachboy Canoe Club, take plenty of precautions.

“Before going into Ala Wai, if you have any cuts or sores, you have to put alcohol on it, clean it. Like my finger, tape it up,” Sing said. Giovannini added: “When we’re finished with practice, we rinse off the canoes, and we all rinse ourselves off and take a shower.”

Septic shock survivor Katy Grainger said she is living proof that a little infection can become life-threatening. The former Kauai woman lost both of her legs after wading in floodwaters in Hanalei.

“Most people don’t understand that if they get an infection, they could literally become an amputee like I did,” said Grainger. “I had no idea that something so small could become so serious.”

Researchers say the Ala Wai is home to a rare flesh-eating bacteria known as vibrio vulnificus, which thrives in warmer temperatures.

“People can get really sick from this particular bacteria and super sick, hospitalized, and even die,” said Dr. Cindy Hou, an infectious disease specialist.

The Genki Ala Wai Project has been using mud balls packed with microorganisms to clean the canal. The group said there has been a recorded drop in bacteria levels since 2019, but the water is still risky.

“We don’t think it’s safe to swim just yet, but with everybody’s assistance, with the help of the community, we can come together, and one day make that place somewhere where you know, we can enjoy recreationally,” said Kouri Nago, of the Genki Ala Wai Project.

The nonprofit hopes to have the waterway swimmable and fishable by 2026.