Drowning Project Begins in Sydney

A state-wide coastal public safety risk assessment project heads to Randwick City this week to target priority black spots for coastal drownings.

Surf Life Saving NSW has embarked on a major project to help reduce coastal drowning deaths by assessing every beach and rock platform in NSW over the next few years. The project will target priority black spots in 10 local government areas initially, this week looking at Randwick.

Through the NSW Water Safety Black Spot Fund, the project is being managed by Australian Coastsafe, a wholly-owned business unit of Surf Life Saving Australia. Risk assessors will be gathering data at 223 beaches and headlands over the coming months. Areas targeted in the first phase include Tweed, Ballina-Byron, Coffs Harbour, Central Coast, Sydney and Wollongong.

Project Manager Adam Weir, says while the scope of the project is daunting, the information is vital to providing water safety agencies with an effective strategy to reduce the coastal drowning toll.

“Each year, many lives are lost along our coastline, leaving families devastated and communities in shock. Our goal is to reduce drowning deaths by 50 percent within the next decade,” said Adam Weir.

Three hundred people have drowned in NSW since 2004 – 80 of them in Sydney’s South and Eastern Suburbs. The majority of victims are people caught in rip currents while swimming, or swept from rocks while fishing and almost all occur at unpatrolled locations or outside patrol hours.

Randwick City is a major metropolitan area with nine beaches including some of Sydney’s most popular – Coogee, Clovelly and the surfing beach at Maroubra.

Councillor Tony Bowen, Mayor of Randwick welcomed the program.

”Our lifeguards and volunteer lifesavers do a fantastic job of keeping swimmers safe. Last summer Council lifeguards rescued almost 300 hundred people, treated more than 6,000 with first aid, and moved a staggering 19,000 people out of dangerous areas on our beaches.

“But despite this people are still drowning along our coastline. We will always have to be vigilant about water safety and I welcome improvements that will reduce the number of injuries and deaths,” Mayor Bowen said.

There have been 15 rock fishing related drowning deaths in Randwick City since July 2004. Interested stakeholders have already delivered a variety of initiatives primarily to increase the use of personal flotation devices (PFDs) while fishing, as well as promoting other safe fishing behaviours and precautions.

Mr Bruce Notley-Smith, State Member for Coogee, agrees that a proactive response is the best way to reduce coastal drownings in the community.

"This funding delivers on an election commitment of the NSW Government to reduce drowning in coastal areas and improve their overall safety. Here in the eastern suburbs of Sydney we have a high level of visits by tourists to our beaches and coastline, many of whom are unfamiliar with water safety, so this initiative is of particular significance to this area," Mr Notley-Smith said.

The assessment process will examine a range of factors which can impact on risk, including education and information, signage and beach access, lifesaving and lifeguard services and the skills of those taking to the water. Local surf clubs, council lifeguards and communities will be consulted throughout the project.

Final assessment reports will be provided to the NSW Government and other relevant agencies and land managers, creating a working ‘Blue Print’ for a state-wide coastal drowning prevention strategy.

For more information on Project Blueprint and to find out how to be part of the consultation process, go to www.coastsafe.org.au/blueprint.

Tue 9 Oct 2012