“Blueprint” to cut drownings on Far South Coast

A STATE-WIDE coastal public safety risk assessment project begins next week in the Bega Valley local government area with the aim of reducing coastal drownings across NSW.

Surf Life Saving NSW’s Project Blueprint aims to help reduce coastal drowning deaths by assessing every beach and rock platform in NSW over the next few years.

The second year of the project will see the coastlines of five local government areas assessed including Bega Valley.

Through the NSW Water Safety Black Spot Fund, Surf Life Saving NSW is using the expertise of Australian Coastsafe, a wholly-owned business unit of Surf Life Saving Australia, to complete the project.

From January 16 to February 19, Surf Life Saving NSW Coastal Risk Officers will assess over 180km of coastline covering 156 locations including 102 beaches and 54 rock platforms throughout the Bega Valley Shire Council and National Parks in the Bega Valley LGA.

SLSNSW coastal risk manager Adam Weir said 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 per cent within the next decade,” Mr Weir said.

More than 350 people have drowned in NSW since 2004 – 11 of them along the coastline of the Bega Valley.

The vast majority 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.

Bega Valley Shire mayor Bill Taylor said the project would be extremely valuable to rescue agencies and ocean goers alike.

“Many people get into trouble in the surf because they misunderstand or underestimate the conditions,” he said.

“Having our coastline assessed by Australian Coastsafe will result in a broader understanding of the threats and conditions unique to every beach in the shire.

“We’ve had near misses and tragic losses in recent months, so it is very welcome news to hear of this valuable risk assessment project. We will be offering our full support to Australian Coastlife as the project unfolds.”

National Parks and Wildlife Service Far South Coast region manager Tim Shepherd said National Parks was looking forward to working with staff from Surf Life Saving NSW to review and improve safety on local beaches.

“It is good to see state and local government working together in a co-operative manner sharing expertise,” Mr Shepherd said.

Over four years the project will aim to cover 1,590 km of coastline, which includes 600km (38 per cent) of rocky coastline and 990km of sandy coastline (62 per cent).

An estimated total of 892 locations will be assessed as part of the project.

Areas already targeted in the first year and a half of “Blueprint” include Tweed, Byron and Ballina areas, Coffs Harbour, Lake Munmorah, Wyong, Randwick, Wollongong, Coffs Harbour, Gosford, Waverley and Sydney’s Northern Beaches (Pittwater, Warringah and Manly).

Members of the public from the Bega Valley local government area are invited to attend a Consultation Forum where there will be opportunities to have some input, ask questions and make suggestions for the local area.

Public consultation forums will be held on:

Thursday, January 30 – Pambula SLSC at 6.30pm

Tuesday, February 4 – Tathra SLSC at 6.30pm

Thursday, February 13 – Bermagui SLSC at 6.30pm

The assessment process examines 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 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 “Blueprint” 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, visit www.coastsafe.org.au/blueprint

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