Enjoying Mokulua Islands Responsibly

Be safe when visiting ‘the Mokes' NATHALIE WALKER PHOTO

Be safe when visiting ‘the Mokes’ NATHALIE WALKER PHOTO

The picturesque Mokulua Islands, which sit about a mile off Lanikai Beach in Kailua, are among the most photographed images in all of Hawaii.

The larger island on the left is Moku Nui, a popular destination for kayakers, paddlers and swimmers every day. And on the right is Moku Iki, a bird sanctuary that is off limits to the public.

But not everyone follows the rules. In fact, many don’t know rules even exist or simply don’t care. Lifeguards and rescue personnel have seen their share of injuries on the islands and, unfortunately, a number of fatalities as well.

According to Dan Galanis, epidemiologist for the state Department of Health’s Injury Prevention and Control Sections, since 1993 at least four people have drowned in waters off the Mokulua Islands. The last tragic incident happened in 2011.

Earlier this month, an 18-year-old man fell nearly 20 feet down a rocky, sharp cliff on the backside of Moku Nui Island. The man suffered a head injury, hip and leg injuries, and multiple abrasions.

Canoe paddlers spotted him and called 911. The call was routed to Ocean Safety dispatch, and a rescue team was able to carry the man off the island, stabilize him and transport him to the boat ramp at Kailua Beach Park, where Emergency Medical Services was waiting.

City officials say they consistently see injuries on the backside of the island, where people like to climb and jump off the rocks.

“The Mokulua Islands are out of sight of the Kailua Beach towers, which makes it even more imperative that we have constant patrolling of the islands,” says Shayne Enright, Ocean Safety spokeswoman. “There is constant activity at the Mokulua Islands, so as we patrol we are talking to people, assuring they are OK and should be out there.”

Last month, Ocean Safety rescued a group who flipped their kayaks near the islands and needed assistance getting back to shore.

Last April, Ocean Safety rescued a family of four that ran into trouble while kayaking to the Mokuluas. Witnesses say, “Mom got into trouble first and Dad went to help her, leaving their 10-year-old and 6-year-old children alone on the island.” Luckily, the older child called 911 and the family was rescued.

“If unfamiliar, take it easy, slow down,” says Jude Parker, veteran Ocean Safety lifeguard and rescue-craft operator. “If you’re not sure, ask and don’t bend. Don’t be that guy. Get home in one piece and know your limits and limitations because we want you to enjoy safely.”

In 2012, the city mounted an undercover camera surveillance system on Moku Iki to monitor activity on the islands. The camera system was eventually removed, but not before gathering important and potentially lifesaving information.

In August 2012, Ocean Safety got a new rescue water-craft for the Windward district to cover waters from Kapoho Point to the Mokulua Islands. The rescue tool reduces the response time to incidents along this stretch, including the Mokuluas. Officials estimate it takes less than three or four minutes, depending on the conditions, to get to the Mokulua Islands from Kailua Beach Park.

“We ask that the public does take the necessary measures to keep themselves safe,” says Enright. “Always wear a PFD or life vest, don’t go kayaking during high winds, carry a cell phone, tell someone you are going out to the islands, and it is always best to talk to a lifeguard first. You need to know your capabilities and be a strong enough swimmer to get back to shore in the event you lose your kayak or surfboard.”

Ocean Safety is doing its part. We need to do ours.