(BIVN) – The State is recognizing drowning prevention efforts across the islands, as Hawai‘i Beach Safety Week runs from September 20-26.
“This week is dedicated to Hawai‘i Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee member and long-time water safety advocate Ray Sanborn, who passed away unexpectedly last week,” the Hawaiʻi Department of Health says. “Sanborn was a founding member of the advisory committee and enthusiastic contributor to drowning prevention efforts for decades. Sanborn was president and CEO of Kama‘aina Kids.”
Although the annual beach safety events such as State Ocean Safety Conference and Jr. Lifeguard Championships have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hawaiʻi health department is pushing forward with a statewide campaign, “Ocean Safety Amidst a Pandemic: Keeping your Ohana Safe.”
The State says COVID-related travel restrictions have drastically reduced the number of visitors at local beaches, however “all counties have seen an increase in residents going fishing and participating in other shoreline and beach activities.”
In a DOH media release, county efforts to keep people safe in and around the ocean were highlighted, including this about the County of Hawaiʻi:
Hawai‘i Island has historically had the highest proportion of resident drownings. Ocean safety and rescue services were involved in assisting several residents who were fishing or diving and went missing during various incidents in the early part of the year. Assistant Fire Chief Darwin Okinaka encourages divers and ‘opihi pickers to use a tight buddy system and asks adults to keep a close eye on children, especially around coastal areas. He notes, “Shoreline activities, such as fishing and picking ‘opihi, account for more than one-third of fatal ocean drownings among Big Island residents. We stress the importance of being aware of the current ocean conditions and don’t take chances if they’re unfavorable.”
Eight of nine fatal ocean drownings in Hawai‘i since April were residents, the State says(compared to only four of the 14 fatal drownings from January through March, the pre-lockdown period in Hawai‘i). Nearly half (5) of the 12 fatal incidents between January and July 2020 were related to free diving.
Fatal ocean drownings in the state are projected to be about 50% lower than the annual average of 82 over the last five years, the health department says.