Coast Guard's new Kamokuna restrictions could sink lava tours

Published: Mar. 28, 2017 at 4:59 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 28, 2017 at 9:30 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn
(Image: U.S. Coast Guard)
(Image: U.S. Coast Guard)

KILAUEA VOLCANO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. Coast Guard established a restricted zone around Hawaii Island's Kamokuna ocean entry on Tuesday, a move designed to increase spectator safety but one that has angered tour operators that frequent the area.

Kamokuna's popular 'lava hose' stopped spewing molten rock into the ocean last week, but the Coast Guard says it is still concerned about the dangers of  a cliff collapse.

As a result, boaters must now stay 300 meters -- nearly the length of three football fields -- from the area where the lava enters the ocean.

"There was more hazards and dangers that were brought to our attention, so we wanted to implement that safety zone as soon as possible to prevent anything from happening," said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Lavasser.

Those dangers also include volcanic shrapnel, toxic gases and potential bench collapses, but lava tour operators say they're against the new order. The Coast Guard says it worked with key scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey to establish the temporary safety zone, using 30 years of data of delta collapses and observations.

"Considering we've been doing this for 12 years and we've never seen an incident, and we've been building a larger passenger vessel to do this, it's a slap in the face because it's really what our business is built on," said Shane Turpin of Lava Ocean Tours, who says he takes visitors to within about 100 feet of the entry point, depending on the lava's activity.

Given the distance of the new restriction, one operator says visitors won't be able to see much anymore except smoke, especially now that the lava hose into the ocean has ended.

"As far as our lava tour industry, it's pretty much in the tank right now," said Ikaika Marzo, of Kalapana Cultural Tours. "Majority 90 percent of our business in the next month has cancelled because of the distance."

The restrictions are expected to be in place for at least six months.

Tour boat operators say they didn't get a chance to speak out about the new rule before a May 8th public meeting, but the Coast Guard insists it needed to establish the safety zone immediately.

Anyone caught in violation could face an $88,000 fine or a class D felony.

This story will be updated. 

Copyright 2017 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.