Honolulu Ocean Safety responds to more rescues as more people go outdoors

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Honolulu Ocean Safety officials say lifeguards have been extra busy in recent days as more tourists arrive in Hawaii.

Many beachgoers are unaware of the hazards they could face in the ocean, even on a calm day.

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It is not just the beaches in Waikiki that are packed with people, lifeguards say beaches on the Leeward Coast are becoming very popular thanks to social media, and they are seeing a dramatic increase in rescues.

It seemed like a calm day at Electric Beach on Wednesday, May 5, with a group of dolphins and a couple of whales spotted not too far from swimmers.

Ocean Safety officer Zachary Hambaro says active marine life is raising the beaches online presence, but the beauty can be deceiving.

Hambaro said, “Because of social media, they post pictures, it makes it look really safe and beautiful but it’s the opposite.”

Cooling pipes from the power plant adjacent to Electric Beach pump warm water into the ocean, this draws marine life but also creates a dangerous current.

“The water that is being pushed out of there is really powerful and it creates a really strong current,” Hambaro said. “As you can look, we have one person on the outside swimming, people get pushed that far and even further.”

A swimmer can be pushed hundreds of yards away from shore in seconds. Rescue Seven patrols the southwestern side of Oahu on watercraft. It has had more than 330 rescues in the first three months of 2021.

Ocean Safety officer Aka Tamashiro says their daily average rescues are increasing.

Tamashiro said, “Saturdays are crazy and Sundays are one of our busiest days, and we’re seeing upwards of 50 rescues every weekend over here.”

Not all responses happen far into the ocean, water going into a swimmer’s snorkel can create distress. A swimmer who struggled against the current was taken to shore on a watercraft while KHON2 reported on this story.

Tamashiro said, “Inexperienced and unfamiliar with their surroundings that they’re about to put themselves into.”

It is not uncommon for lifeguards to approach swimmers and offer support with their gear.

Their goal is to get visitors and local residents to return home safely, as more people are itching to go outdoors after a year of staying home.

“It’s not just this beach, it’s the whole island,” Hambaro said. “Places that people have not gone before, people are going, so because of that we have been really busy around the island.”

Ocean Safety will expand its mobile team starting Thursday, July 1, going from 16 mobile teams to 24 teams to respond to the increasing number of 911 calls.

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