Scarce funds stretch beach patrols

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

The Department of Parks and Wildlife has delivered a warning to beachgoers, directing them not to swim at beaches in the region under WA Government control.

The statement comes in response to mounting calls from Capes surfers for more lifeguard patrols because of the surge in visitor numbers to the region’s treacherous waters.

The debate was reignited after surfers and tourism operators this week said the increase in inexperienced beach users getting into trouble in the water put unprecedented demand on amateurs to perform rescues.

Surf schools call for more lifeguards

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However, in response to Times inquiries, DPaW said it could only fund summer lifeguards at Penguin Island, and not Redgate or Contos, where lives have been lost in recent years.

“While people should always take personal responsibility when using beaches, Parks and Wildlife has a range of measures in place to promote visitor safety at all locations it manages including signage and public information alerting people to any hazards,” a DPaW spokeswoman said.

“Parks and Wildlife encourages people to swim at locations that are patrolled by lifeguards.”

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River chief executive Gary Evershed reiterated comments from 2010 that there were insufficient resources for local government to extend the summer lifeguard season at Rivermouth.

“With such a vast stretch of coastline and the need to keep rates down and with a freeze on staffing increases, the Shire is not in a position to provide additional lifeguards,” he said.

“Locals and visitors to the shire will need to exercise extreme caution when swimming at any beaches to avoid any tragedies.”

Surfers said patrols starting at 10am were incompatible with Australian beach culture and the season needed to be longer.

However, dangerous rips at beaches like Redgate were the main concern.

Margaret River Surf School owner Jarrad Davies questioned why the Redgate Beach carpark was to be expanded to allow more people if lifeguard patrols weren’t viable.

Mr Davies said he and his staff did not mind performing rescues, but lives were on the line if surf coaches and other experienced surfers weren’t there when inexperienced visitors got into trouble.

“The tourists walk straight down there and jump straight into the rip,” he said.

“We’re only there in the mornings.”

Mr Davies said he had helped DPaW produce an information video earlier this year, but it was not mentioned by the agency, which said users could learn about conditions at beachsafe.org.au.

DPaW declined to respond to a request for a more detailed response to the specific concerns of local surfers.

Ratepayer-funded lifeguard patrols co-ordinated by the Shire start at Rivermouth next week.

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