Australia’s killer beaches have claimed five young lives already this month in a horror start to the school summer holidays – and the warning from lifesavers is that ‘nowhere is safe’.
More than 30 Australians have already drowned in coastal waters since July, as temperatures soar and life savers plead with beachgoers to take more care.
Five children aged 11 to 15 have lost their lives since December 6, with a total of 10 coastal drowning deaths for the month.
Two children, an 11-year-old boy and Bronson Rhodes, 14, have died at Port Macquarie beaches on the New South Wales mid north coast within a fortnight. Neither of their bodies has been found.
Two teenagers, both 15, have also drowned at Glenelg Beach in Adelaide within eight days. The first, Nitisha Negi, fell from rocks on December 10.
Glenelg Beach in South Australia where two teenagers have drowned in just eight days
Nitisha Negi, 15, was found on December 11 after she fell from rocks at Glenelg beach, SA
Flynns Beach at Port Macquarie where Bronson Rhodes, 14, drowned last Saturday afternoon
Bronson Rhodes disappeared off Flynns Beach at Port Macquarie on the NSW mid north coast
In Tasmania, 14-year-old Georgia Lewtas died on Sunday, six days after being pulled from the water at Devonport’s Mersey Bluff Beach on the island’s north coast.
A woman, 49, drowned at unpatrolled Diggers Beach in Coffs Harbour, on the north coast of NSW, while trying to save a boy from a rip on Sunday afternoon.
And a man aged in his 60s remains in a critical condition after being pulled from water at Sydney’s Bondi Beach after he was spotted in distress on Monday afternoon.
Melbourne father-of three Shaun Oliver, 32, died while trying to save 12-year-old boy Yazan Hammad at Wollongong’s City Beach, south of Sydney, on September 11. City Beach had been closed at the time due to rough conditions.
Shane Daw, National Coastal Risk and Safety Manager for Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA), said there had been at least 33 coastal drowning deaths in Australia since July 1.
‘The loss of any life is tragic, let alone that of a child or young person,’ Mr Daw said.
‘Coming into the Christmas period we are imploring all beachgoers and other aquatic users to stop and think water safety.’
Georgia Lewtas, 14, died six days after being pulled from water at Devonport’s Mersey Bluff
Tasmania’s Mersey Bluff Beach, in Devonport, where Georgia Lewtas was swept out to sea
Shaun Oliver drowned while attempting to save a 12-year-old boy at Wollongong’s City Beach
‘It is critical that parents, young people, and all coastal visitors understand the potential risks when recreating at any aquatic venue.
‘Sadly, it only takes a moment for a tragedy to unfold. Knowing your limits and abilities is critical, and we cannot overstate the importance of swimming at patrolled locations.’
Since July 1 there have been 16 coastal drownings in NSW, including four on the mid north coast and three on the far north coast.
There is no national beach-by-beach record of drownings. And ‘coastal drownings’ can include deaths up to 1 kilometre inland and 5 kilometres offshore.
SLSA’s recently released National Coastal Safety Report for 2017 showed 116 coastal drowning deaths were recorded for 2016-17, which was the third highest number of fatalities recorded in the past 13 years.
An 11-year-old boy drowned at Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW, on December 6
Bronson Rhodes, 14, pictured left, disappeared in rough surf at Flynns Beach in Port Macquarie, NSW; Shuan Oliver, 32, pictured right, drowned at Wollongong’s City Beach
Two boys, aged 11 and 14, have drowned at Port Macquarie beaches within a fortnight
According to the separate Royal Life Saving (RLS) National Drowning Report for 2017 there were 50 drowning deaths at beaches in Australia between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017.
That figure was an increase of 4 per cent on the 10-year average. Males accounted for 80 per cent of all drowning deaths at beaches, the report found.
More than half – 54 per cent – of beach drowning deaths occurred while swimming and recreating, with watercraft and diving incidents making up a further 16 per cent of deaths.
NSW recorded the highest number of drowning deaths at beaches, according to the RLS report, accounting for almost one third of all deaths.
Fourteen deaths (28 per cent) occurred in Western Australia and nine occurred in Victoria (18 per cent).
According to the latest Surf Life Saving NSW Coastal Safety Report over the past 10 years 375 people have drowned along the coast of that state, with 34 per cent of deaths in the Sydney metropolitan area.
Police divers found Nitisha Negi’s body at South Australia’s Glenelg Beach on December 11
More shark attacks have been recorded at Byron Bay, NSW, than any other Australian beach
Diggers Beach at Coffs Harbour in northern NSW where a 49-year-old woman died on Sunday
Local government areas with the most drowning deaths were Randwick – which includes Maroubra and Coogee – the Northern Beaches, Central Coast, Sutherland, Shoalhaven, Coffs Harbour and Byron areas.
An 11-year-old boy drowned at Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie, on December 6 and Bronson Rhodes, 14 was last seen at nearby Flynns Beach on December 16.
In Queensland, there were only four drownings on beaches between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, the equal lowest total on record and a significant drop from 11 the previous year.
There was one drowning recorded on Thursday Island (Torres Strait), Green Island (North Queensland), Tangalooma (Moreton Island), and Currimundi Beach (Sunshine Coast).
There have been 77 drownings on Queensland beaches across the past 10 years, with Surfers Paradise the most common location (seven) followed by Green Island with six.
There were no drownings between Surf Life Saving Queensland’s red and yellow flags in the past 10 years and 72.7 per cent of all drownings during this time occurred less than 1 kilometre from a patrolled area.
Most shark attacks occur in NSW but the majority of fatalities occur in Western Australia
Searchers pictured keeping a close eye on the rough sea as they search for Bronson Rhodes
SLSQ identified five coastal blackspots across the state: Green Island, Surfers Paradise and Marina Mirage to South Stradbroke Island, and Noosa River to Double Island Point Headland and Peregian to Sunshine Beach.
Over the past 10 years the worst Queensland beaches for drowning were: Surfers Paradise (seven), Green Island (six), Sunshine Beach at Noosa (three) and Northcliffe on the Gold Coast (three).
Six beaches recorded two deaths: Narrowneck on the Gold Coast, Happy Valley on Fraser Island, Kings Beach on the Sunshine Coast, Teewah Beach at Noosa, Fitzroy Island at Cairns and Southport on the Gold Coast.
Surf Life Saving NSW said anecdotal evidence continued to support the premise people were swimming further away from patrolled locations.
‘Fatal drowning data supports this anecdotal evidence when we look at the distances from patrolled locations where fatal drownings occurred,’ SLSNSW said in its Coastal Safety Report.
The scene at Adelaide’s Glenelg Beach after another drowning there on Monday afternoon
An 11-year-old boy drowned after he was swept out to see off Lighthouse Beach in NSW
Seven people have drowned at Queensland’s famous Surfers Paradise in the past 10 years
In the 2016-17 year 45 per cent (14) of coastal drowning deaths were at locations where no active patrol was present or nearby.
In the same period, 23 per cent (seven) of coastal drowning deaths occurred within 1 kilometre of a patrolled location.
However, about half of those incidents appeared to have occurred as a result of a medical complication and/or were at locations that could not be seen such as rock platforms around headlands.
A further 10 per cent (three) of coastal drownings occurred between 1 kilometre and 5 kilometres away from the patrolled location and the remaining 68 per cent (21) occurred more than 5 kilometres away from an actively patrolled location.
Adelaide’s Glenelg breakwater has seen four drowning deaths in the past two years.
The body of Nitisha Negi, 15, was found on December 11 after she and four others fell from rocks the previous day.
Police, ambulance and Surf Life Saving crews at a drowning at Glenelg Beach on Monday
A boy, 11, drowned while swimming with his brother at Lighthouse Beach in Port Macquarie
And a boy, also 15, drowned at a birthday party at the beach on Monday afternoon. He body was spotted by beachgoers in waters underneath the jetty.
Two 11-year-old boys, Frank Ndikuriyo and Thierry Niyomwungere, died after playing in the same area on New Year’s Day last year.
Fortunately, there has only been one fatal shark attack so far this year – at Esperance in Western Australia – with Byron Bay remaining the most dangerous beach over the past 17 years.
Between 1990 and 2016 there were 295 unprovoked shark attacks – 42 of them fatal – in Australia, according to analysis of the Global Shark Attack File by online comparison site Finder.com.au.
Most recorded attacks occurred in NSW but the majority of fatalities occurred in Western Australia.
Seventeen people were killed in Western Australia, seven in Queensland, six in NSW and two in Tasmania.
How to stay safe on Australian beaches
Surf Life Saving Australia is asking the public to take precautions when relaxing in coastal areas this summer:
Where possible, swim at a patrolled beach, between the red and yellow flags.
Obey the safety signs at the beach.
Learn how to identify a rip current and look for rip currents before deciding where to swim.
If you’re not sure, ask a lifesaver about the beach conditions.
Wear a lifejacket while boating, rock fishing or paddling.
Don’t go into or on the ocean during severe weather warnings.
Take personal responsibility, think twice and assess your safety before entering the water.
Supervise children at all times in and around water.
In that period Byron Bay in NSW and Cottesloe Beach in Western Australia had the most fatal attacks with two each. Byron Bay had the most attacks with 12.
Ballina in NSW had six attacks – one of them fatal – and another fatal attack was recorded at Shelly Beach on the NSW Central Coast.
There were five attacks in Sydney Harbour and four in Newcastle.
Three attacks were recorded in NSW at Bondi Beach, Seal Rocks, Fingal Bay, Lennox Head and Mona Vale, as well as at Victoria’s Bells Beach and South Australia’s Middleton Beach.
Western Australia has had the most unprovoked attacks in 2017 with six – one of them, at Esperance, fatal – followed by NSW with five and Queensland (four).
In the past 17 years there have been fatal stinger attacks at Yarrabah, Cairns (box jellyfish in 2000), Hamilton Island, Whitsundays and Opal Reef, Cairns (irukandji in 2002) Bamaga, Umagico (box jellyfish in 2006) and Wongaling, Mission Beach (box jellyfish in 2009).
Surf Life Saving Australia warns beachgoers to swim between the red and yellow flags