- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) - An ocean safety brochure in every hotel, condominium, classroom and beach rental shack has been a longtime dream for many Maui County officials.

That vision could finally come true as the county’s Fire, Police and Parks and Recreation departments have teamed up with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and U.S. Coast Guard to publish an official ocean safety guide, The Maui News reported (http://is.gd/sqO6si).

The trifold pamphlet provides a map of beaches and imparts essential tips to staying safe in the water. These include being wary of strong shore breaks and rip currents, along with identifying which beaches have lifeguard towers.

“This is the first time we have all collaborated and made a brochure like this,” Ocean Safety Supervisor Cary Kayama said Thursday. “We’ve been trying to figure out how we can help educate the visitors, and even the locals, on ocean safety and what’s the best way to do that. With the brochure, we can put it anywhere now, we just got to pay the printer.”

Funded and developed by the county, the brochure follows an ocean safety video released in February. The unveilings are part of an effort to lower Maui County’s ocean-related death toll, which topped 21 last year (though that figure may include both drownings and people who died from other causes, such as heart attacks or strokes). The state Department of Health reported 16 drownings in Maui County in 2013 and 13 in 2012.

“We’re hoping that the hotels will put brochures in every single hotel room and have it readily available, that way (visitors) can pick it up and read through it wherever,” Kayama said. “Hopefully they can use that information to make their ocean activity safer.

“They think this is Disneyland… . They don’t know the hidden dangers that we have so this is one way to educate them on the dangers,” he said.

Information about sharks also is included in the brochure. In recent years, there’s been a spike in shark bite incidents in Maui County waters. Statewide last year, there were 14 confirmed shark incidents, with eight of those reported around Maui, including two fatalities.

So far this year, there have been two confirmed shark attacks. In January, a Paukukalo fisherman was bitten on the leg after trying to push a hooked shark back into the ocean off the pali in Lahaina. The other attack killed Margaret C. Cruse, 65, of Kihei, in April, while she was snorkeling in the Kanahena Cove area of the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve.

The brochure’s shark safety tips include not swimming alone, exiting the water if fish or turtles behave erratically and avoiding murky water.

“The feedback has been really great,” Kayama said of the brochure. “This is the first time we have something like this, and it’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”

Maui Visitors Bureau Executive Director Terryl Vencl welcomed the brochure, which comes in addition to a safety pamphlet the bureau has passed out at the airport for years. She thanked the county for printing and designing the handout. And now, she has been lobbying hotels to make them available for their guests.

“They’ve all been sent the information, and it’s up to each property, on what they want to do,” Vencl said.

One resort that has embraced the brochure and the ocean safety video is the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui, in Wailea. The resort plans to have the brochure inside all 450 hotel suites and play the video on its in-house information channel, officials said.

“We want to make sure (guests are) aware of the dangers that are around and be prepared to enjoy Maui responsibly and safely,” said Tanya Matthews, regional director of sales and marketing for Fairmont Hawaii.

Matthews said the hotel was “definitely” interested in providing the brochure to guests, and it has made it available at the front desk and with its concierge. She said the resort has always provided beach safety information to guests but “nothing as professionally prepared or dedicated in the same way.”

“It’s the perfect time because we’re in our peak family season,” she said.

The key to the brochure’s success, as well as the safety video, will be in its distribution, county officials said. Colin Yamamoto, ocean safety battalion chief for the Maui Fire Department, said he hopes transient vacation rentals and local schools also receive the brochures.

“We need to reach out to high schools and even intermediate schools and educate them when they’re young because years down the road we’ll reap the benefits,” Yamamoto said. “The key is prevention and education, and I’m really focusing on those two things.”

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Information from: The Maui News, http://www.mauinews.com

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