Most visitors Tuesday weren’t bothered that the blue waters off Waikiki Beach had turned milky white, but some locals were turned off.
"We don’t know that this was anything different," said Verlin Potts of Iowa, who had never swum at Waikiki Beach before. "The water was still wet. … It was normal to us."
But Desi Ray De Luze of Haiku, Maui, said, "It’s disgusting. I’m just going to lay in the sun and get dark."
The white silt is a safe byproduct of the $2.5 million sand replenishment project, overseen by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, officials said.
Trucks and a bulldozer began depositing and grading the dredged sand Monday near the Duke Kahanamoku statue. Booms in the water surrounding the sand piles were unable to contain silt leaching into the water, turning it an opaque white.
Ocean Safety Division Operations Chief Jim Howe said he visited the beach at the height of the work at midmorning Monday. "The water is milky, chalky white," Howe said, adding, "It’s clearly obvious."
"The seepage was maybe 25 yards," he said. "It’s to be expected from the project."
The silt ran down the length of the beach from the area near the Duke Kahanamoku statue Ewa toward the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
State coastal lands Administrator Sam Lemmo said the silt is "not a health issue," and despite public relations efforts to ease visitors’ concerns about dredging and heavy equipment, "we’re not going down to that level of detail" to explain the change in water color.
"I was wondering why it was so white," said Kathy Nicholson, 59, of Alaska, who swam at the beach Tuesday morning.
Others seemed to figure it out from signs or observation.
Jim Ogilvie, a frequent visitor from Denver, said, "It looks like it’s clay, it’s sediment. It shouldn’t hurt us. I assumed that’s where it was coming from."
Michelle Thompson of Ewa Beach said she noticed it was "kinda whitish," but wasn’t concerned that her 6-year-old granddaughter was swimming in it.
Her granddaughter said the ocean bottom felt "soft."
A lifeguard said Tuesday he hadn’t heard any complaints or concerns from beachgoers concerning the ocean’s color.
The project, funded by hotels, is to widen the 1,730-foot-long beach by about 37 feet. It is scheduled to be completed April 14. Work runs from 7 a.m. to noon seven days a week.
Plans initially called for the sand — harvested from nearby shoals — to be dried onshore and moved through an underground pipe to replenish the beach from the Duke Kahanamoku statue to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel groin. But air-blowing sand to move it through the pipe was taking longer than projected, so the contractor is using trucks to haul the sand along the beach.
"It’s sand. It’s not a health problem, if you will," said Rick Egged, president of the Waikiki Improvement Association. "It’s something that settles down. We stop work at noon, so it shouldn’t be a problem."
Egged said ambassadors from the Waikiki Business Improvement District will help visitors with questions, and have posted signs explaining the project.
"People seem to be pretty understanding," but he added that some have commented that the dewatered sand piled on the beach looks grayer than what’s on the beach now.
"Once it’s back on the beach, the sun will bleach it and it’ll look whiter," Egged said.
He countered complaints from some visitors that the beach seemed more crowded than usual due to some areas being closed off because of the work.
"Waikiki is full," he said, but added it’s why work is limited to mornings.