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Lava hits ocean and tours are underway

Updated: 
July 27, 2016 - 10:41am

HILO — Lava began spilling into the ocean early Tuesday morning, sending a plume of volcanic gas skyward while adding new land to Hawaii Island’s southeast coast as waves crashed into 2,000-degree molten rock.

The ocean entry inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the first since August 2013, offers another awe-inspiring site but one that comes with additional hazards.

In addition to toxic gas, the new ledges the lava flow from Kilauea’s Puu Oo vent creates along the sea cliffs can be weak and prone to collapsing into the sea. Two park visitors were killed about 16 years ago by a gas plume created by an earlier ocean entry, said park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane.

“It has a whole new set of hazards to be aware of,” she said.

Ferracane said additional signs will be posted advising visitors of the risk.

Poking or prodding the lava also is illegal within the park, she said.

Getting to the lava flow requires a hike along a gravel road used as an emergency route. That hike can be 8 to 10 miles roundtrip depending on whether the starting point is from within the park or the Hawaii County viewing area near Kalapana.

But there is a third option.

Some tour companies are now offering excursions to the lava flow by sea.

Shane Turpin, owner of Lava Ocean Tours, said he can get his boat as close as 100 feet to where the flow is entering the ocean, depending on conditions.

“For us, it’s a really exciting time,” he said.

Turpin said the best view is from the makai side.

“I like to think of it as a cathedral,” he said.

“You have these lava flows cascading down 150- to 200-foot cliffs right there at the ocean.”

Turpin also noted the risk of hiking to the edge of the sea cliff, which was undercut Tuesday morning.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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