As summer kicks into high gear, authorities push ocean safety amid alarming drowning figures

Most of the victims are visitors.
Published: Jul. 7, 2023 at 5:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - New state figures show ocean drownings remain the leading cause of injury-related death of visitors in Hawaii, and that Maui has the highest number of tourists who get into trouble.

The report comes as Maui saw a snorkeling death Thursday.

Maui police officials have identified the victim as Joan Giuliano, 59, of Lancaster, California.

Authorities say first responders responded to Honolua Bay in West Maui regarding a report of an unresponsive woman just before 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Witnesses tell investigators that she had been snorkeling when she lost consciousness.

First responders immedaitely brought her to shore and performed life-saving measures.

However, they were unsuccessful.

“Every year we have a handful of drownings, a lot of them due to snorkeling,” said Maui County Ocean Safety Operations Manager Cary Kayama. “Majority of them are visitors.”

The state Department of Health’s Injury Prevention System Branch says there were 108 drownings from snorkeling statewide from 2018 to 2022.

The highest number was in Maui County, followed by Oahu.

Almost all of the Maui victims were non-residents and most of them came from California.

More visitors died snorkeling than swimming and surfing combined.

Kayama advises snorkeling at lifeguarded beaches. Honolua Bay is not.

“It’s pristine, the water is clear … it’s a very beautiful place. It’s a marine preserve so there’s a lot of fish,” Kayama said. “But then again, it’s a secluded area and there are no lifeguards.”

MPD said an autopsy will be conducted to determine an exact cause of death.

Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau said they have educational messages, including videos, that are presented to the visitor throughout their journey.

The three main safety tips for heading out into the water:

  • Swim at lifeguarded beaches
  • Never turn your back to the ocean
  • And Never go alone.