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EDITORIAL: Call for lifeguards to patrol island beaches

By Staff | Sep 8, 2010

The loss of any life is truly a tragedy, but to lose a life under accidental circumstances can be even more devastating.

Twice in the past few weeks, lives were lost in local waters, the victims of a dangerous rip current in San Carlos Bay near the eastern end of Sanibel. On Aug. 21, a 15-year-old boy passed away after getting pulled underneath the waves while swimming with family and friends. This past Sunday, a 54-year-old man perished after struggling to swim back to shore with his wife.

Rip currents are dangerous, and they can be deadly. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that more than 100 deaths every year can be attributed to rip currents on our nation’s beaches. Rip currents — powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore — can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including bays, lakes and inlets.

Sadly, both of these tragedies might have been avoided if lifeguards had been present.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), "The greatest safety precaution that can be taken is to recognize the danger of rip currents and always remember to swim at beaches with lifeguards."

Presently, no public beach accesses on Sanibel (governed by the city itself), the Causeway Islands and Captiva (both governed by Lee County) are patrolled by lifeguards. We would like to see that changed.

The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) has calculated the chance that a person will drown while attending a beach protected by USLA-affiliated lifeguards at 1 in 18 million. If caught in a rip current at an unguarded beach, those odds drop dramatically.

This Saturday, the City of Sanibel will conduct their first special budget session. We would urge the City Council to consider investigating the possibility of adding lifeguards at each of the public beach facilities on the island: Lighthouse Beach (where the most recent fatality occurred), Gulfside City Park (Algiers Beach), Tarpon Bay Road Beach, Bowman’s Beach and Turner Beach (south of Blind Pass).

Funding for the lifeguard program could come from existing revenue sources (i.e. beach parking fees), a nominal increase to beach parking stickers for island residents or through a per-visit charge for non-residents.

We would also encourage the Lee County Parks and Recreation Commission to provide lifeguards on the beaches along the Sanibel Causeway as well as both Captiva public beach locations: Turner Beach (north of Blind Pass) and the Alison Hagerup Beach Access.

In addition, lifeguards at private beaches — locations run by Gulf-side hotels, motels, condominiums and rental facilities — could be funded through contributions to pay for lifeguard services coming from those individual business owners.

Yes, it may cost more to visit our beaches in the future, but isn’t the chance to perhaps save a life — or two — worth the additional expense? We certainly think so.

— Reporter editorial