Gregory Spillman, 19, U.S. Navy. Shannon Nunez, 22, U.S. Navy. Daniel Lowe, 27, California resident. Glenn Cooke, 45, Honolulu resident. Zachary Ryan Johnson, 21, U.S. Navy. Stephen LeBlanc, 29, Louisiana resident. Daren Kataoka, 20, Honolulu resident.

These are just some of the people whose lives came to a tragic end at Spitting Caves, a popular scenic spot in the district I serve as a state representative. It’s been estimated that in the past seven years, more than a dozen people have died there — and many more have nearly drowned.

The latest tragedies were just a few weeks ago when there were two incidents on a single day. A 14-year old girl who mistimed a jump from a cliff above the caves hit her head on the way down and was airlifted to a trauma center. Hours later, a 20-year old male swimmer in distress was pulled from the ocean by rescue personnel.

Spitting Caves
Jumpers at the Spitting Caves risk head injuries, broken bones and drowning, Rep. Ward warns. Civil Beat/Anthony Quintano/2016

The area overlooking Spitting Caves is incredibly beautiful, but incredibly dangerous, as well. Like the famous Halona Blowhole of East Honolulu, waves enter the mouth of the cave and hit the back wall, thus “spitting” whitewater outward horizontally (rather than vertically, like Halona Blowhole). Located in the Portlock neighborhood of Hawaii Kai, it attracts cliff jumpers, adventure seekers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Even those familiar with Hawaii’s unique ocean conditions, big waves, and strong currents are no match for the extreme dangers presented by the ocean’s constantly changing conditions.  By jumping off the cliff into the waters that surround the cave, you risk all of these life-threatening situations: mistiming the jump and hitting your head; landing in the water, but getting swept out to sea or smashed against the cliff face; and drowning because you panicked or couldn’t climb back up the cliff to safety.

Even those familiar with Hawaii’s unique ocean conditions, big waves, and strong currents are no match for the extreme dangers presented by the ocean’s constantly changing conditions.

Unfortunately, the stories of drownings and injuries are nothing new. I have been grieved by the many tragedies but increasingly angry when we realize these tragedies are largely preventable. A simple sign warning people of the dangers and prohibiting jumping off the cliff, or swimming in the area, would make a huge difference. It would save lives, and the City and County of Honolulu knows it, but has done very little about it over the past two years despite urging from my office and others. A letter to every base commander was also sent over a year ago so newly arriving military personnel would be educated enough to “look, not leap” if they visited Spitting Caves.

In response to the most recent incidents, Capt. James Sloane of the city’s Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services office went on television to say, “Everything about Spitting Caves is dangerous, and we’re really trying to discourage people from jumping in that area. …We just want to keep people out of the water.”

I couldn’t agree more. We’re at the point where the city’s very own ocean safety and emergency services personnel are pleading with members of the public to stay out of the water. The mayor and city administration need to wake up to the obvious and do the right thing.

Fortunately, the right thing in this case also happens to be a simple and straightforward thing and with little or no cost — put up “NO JUMPING” signs in the area, and enforce the rule.  The city already has signs there prohibiting less dangerous activities with $500 fines. A citation and fine may be an annoyance to the jumpers, but the warning – and deterrent effect – would save valuable human lives.

We cannot continue to let Hawaii’s most beautiful places be the most dangerous places for both visitors and locals alike.

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