The Lahaina community was shocked and hit hard by the loss of Uncle Billy Gonzales last year.
On Dec. 29, Gonzales died after being struck by a boat in waters off of popular Hanakao'o Beach Park (Canoe Beach).
This tragic accident - along with additional boat-diver collisions in 2011 - prompted Na Kupuna O Maui and West Side residents to take serious, persistent action.
The first step was to install buoys to separate boaters from swimmers, canoe paddlers and other ocean users near Canoe Beach.
"Na Kupuna O Maui has let out a huge sigh of relief. Although it took the death of our cherished Uncle Billy Gonzales, a series of buoys have been moored in the nearshore waters from Wahikuli to Hanakao'o, protecting our families, cultural practitioners and the public from boaters encroaching into the swimming, paddling and snorkeling areas," noted Aunty Patty Nishiyama of Na Kupuna O Maui.
Nishiyama recognized Jim Coon of Trilogy Excursions, Archie Kalepa and Maui County water safety officers, Maui canoe organizations, Old Lahaina Luau, Leonard Na Koa, Lahaina senior citizens, KPOA and the many folks behind the scenes lobbying for improved ocean safety.
But Canoe Beach is only the first step.
"Since Na Kupuna O Maui has taken the lead in public awareness on this issue, we have received calls asking for more West Side buoys to protect our community from conflicting recreational uses, especially between swimmers and boaters, at Kahekili Beach Park, Mala open space beach and nearby homes, Puamana and Launiupoko," Nishiyama told the Lahaina News.
The community group also discovered that ten commercial catamarans operating in Kaanapali are required to give the state Department of Land and Natural Resources 3 percent of their gross revenue solely to fund buoys.
"This dangerous situation is easy to fix and not very expensive," Nishiyama stated. Na Kupuna urge West Maui lawmakers to seize funds for buoys, "so that our safety is not pigeonholed in one committee or another."
West Maui Sen. Roz Baker and Rep. Angus McKelvey are on board.
Baker this session helped pass Senate Bill 2933 - a measure that aims to improve ocean safety by requiring DLNR to adopt rules imposing stricter regulations for the safety of ocean users; appropriating funds for swim zone buoys at Kamaole beach; and establishing a temporary West Maui Ocean Recreation Management Area Advisory Committee comprised of ocean users to work with DLNR on issues relating to the area, particularly the waters of Kaanapali, and report back to the legislature.
"We fought hard for that bill," said an elated Nishiyama last week Friday.
If you want to join this community effort for safer waters in West Maui, contact Aunty Patty at (808) 281-5470.
"Na Kupuna O Maui will not condone any more tragedies and will hold those who have been warned responsible for protecting and keeping the public safe," she concluded.