Sydney's famous Bondi Beach turned purple yesterday to raise awareness of rip currents – Image courtesy of Aaron Pryor
Beachgoers were given a valuable surf safety lesson yesterday, when rip current dye releases were held at 27 Sydney beaches as part of Surf Life Saving and the University of New South Wales’ first Rip Current Awareness Day.
As a cold change swept over Sydney, surf lifesavers released a harmless purple dye into the water to demonstrate how rip currents flow and how prevalent they are. From on the beach and from elevated vantage points, the public were able to see the vibrant purple dye tracing the path of a rip current as they flowed away from the shoreline.
Surf Life Saving Australia’s Public Education Coordinator, Anthony Bradstreet, believes educating the public about rip currents is vital to reducing drownings on the Australian coastline.
“Educating the public about rip currents is a top priority for Surf Life Saving and we hope these dye releases allowed the public to see just how rip currents work and how common they are.
“Every summer we see thousands of beachgoers get into trouble because they can’t properly identify a rip current. Dye releases allow us to demonstrate what rips are and what they look like – we want to make sure everyone knows what a rip current is so they can avoid them in the first place,” said Bradstreet.
Rip currents are clearly distinguishable along Manly Beach – Image courtesy of Aaron Pryor
So how do you spot a rip current without the aid of purple dye? Bradstreet said beachgoers need to look out for some key indicators.
"Rip currents can be identified by darker channels of water with fewer breaking waves; sandy-coloured water extending beyond the surf zone can also indicate the presence of a rip. Because these areas of water can look calm, swimmers assume it's the safest place to swim, and that is where they can get themselves into trouble.
"The most important thing beachgoers can do is to swim between the red and yellow flags – surf lifesavers place the flags in the best area to swim where rip currents aren't present. Also look out for safety signs on the beach which will alert you to the presence of a rip current. And if beachgoers are in doubt, they simply shouldn't go out," said Bradstreet.
Rip currents have long been a hazard on Australian beaches, and each year up to 25% of beach drowning can be attributed to rip currents (2009/10 National Coastal Safety Report)– though it is expected to be many more. In addition to this, Surf Life Saving estimates that up to 80% of beach rescues relate to rip currents.
The vibrant purple dye was release at Manly Beach, and 26 other in the Sydney region – Image courtesy of Aaron Pryor
In an effort to further understand rip currents, Surf Life Saving and the University of New South Wales have recently partnered to conduct ground-breaking research on rip currents. Geomorphologic and behavioural scientists will conduct studies to more accurately understand rip current flows and trajectories. They will also break new ground by looking further into the behaviour and traits of those people that have been caught in rip currents.
According to University of New South Wales surf scientist, Dr Rob Brander, this research will uncover who is getting caught in rips, how they get in the rip, and what their experience was like.
"Information about what they felt, how they responded, and how they got out is vital towards developing future rip education strategies. But at the moment, we know nothing about what happens to people who are caught in rips other than anecdotal information," said Brander.
Bradstreet believes the partnership with UNSW and the research being undertaken will play a pivotal role in the future development of beach safety initiatives.
“Surf Life Saving uses evidence-based research to develop beach safety campaigns, so this research is vital to better understand rip currents and the behaviours and psychological aspects of people caught in them.
“The results from the study will be used in conjunction with other research activities from around the world, to ensure that our beach safety campaigns are as effective as possible,” said Bradstreet.
Purple dye showing a rip current at Narrabeen in Sydney's north – Image courtesy of Aaron Pryor