Things That Lurk In Murky Waters

Kaleo Roberson's surfboard. Photo from DLNR

Kaleo Roberson’s surfboard. Photo from DLNR

On Dec. 29, 2010, I shared in this column my decision to enter the ocean at Kailua Beach following a winter storm that soaked Oahu with eight inches of rain in a 24-hour period.

A brown-water advisory had been issued for much of the island, and warning signs alerting the public that the ocean may be contaminated with sewage runoff and other debris were posted along the shoreline.

Despite the news bulletins (some of which I had even read on the news at KHON2 the night before), the sour odor that filled the air that morning and a kind lady suggesting I heed the warnings and not enter the ocean, I went in anyway.

How bad could it really be?

Needless to say, my public confession resulted in my mailbox being flooded with emails from MidWeek readers who voiced their strong opinions about my poor judgment.

A few chose their words carefully while offering criticism. But most didn’t pull any punches and gave me a healthy earful about how irresponsible I was for not only entering the water but, more importantly, talking about it like it was some macho thing to do.

Yes, the sharp criticism was more than justified. I was wrong and foolish, and the truth is, I got lucky.

There is no question the ocean was filled with bacteria that day (and for several days after), and I could easily have suffered an infection if I had an open wound.

Secondly, I was lucky I didn’t encounter predators that often lurk in murky storm waters — something state officials often warn the public about following heavy rains.

“DLNR (state Department of Land and Natural Resources) advises ocean users to stay out of waters during and after storms,” says Adam Wong, education specialist with DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources on Maui. “Heavy rains bring many different types of debris down to the ocean, which attracts predators, including sharks.”

It’s happened before and apparently it happened twice in brown storm-runoff waters off Maui several days after Hurricane Ana churned near the Hawaiian Island chain.

On Oct. 18, a Haiku man surfing with his three young sons fended off a large shark at a surf spot known as Freight Trains off Maalaea. Kaleo Roberson told first responders he literally shoved his surfboard in the mouth of the massive shark. DLNR officials say, based on the bite the animal left behind, they believe it was a 14-foot tiger shark.

Two days later, a 58-year-old stand-up paddleboarder encountered a shark in waters off Kahului Harbor. DLNR officials say the man reportedly felt a hard bump, which knocked him off the board. They say the shark reportedly bit the man’s board.

No one was injured in either encounter.

The two attacks prompted the state to issue a stern warning to stay out of murky waters statewide, while reminding beachgoers about the threat of sharks in these conditions.

“They scavenge for food close to stream mouths and runoff,” explains Wong. “Data shows that a high percentage of shark incidents occur in dirty and murky water. We ask people to please refrain from entering the water in these conditions.”

State crews from the department’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement and the state Department of Transportation Harbors Division closed waters at Kahului Harbor and one mile in both directions for one day.

The message is pretty simple: There’s a reason warning signs are posted. It’s for our own safety, and we all have a responsibility to use our best judgment and practice simple common sense.

I learned my lesson courtesy of MidWeek readers. Maui surfers recently had a much more aggressive teacher to get their attention.

Like me, they too got lucky. Remember, the ocean will be here tomorrow. Our tomorrow is not promised.

rkmizutani@gmail.com

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