Thursday, July 30, 2009

Swimming with Crocodiles

There's been a bit of controversy recently around Darwin on the question of life guards (for our American readers, we're talking about people not personal flotating devices). It concerned whether or not funding should be provided to the Darwin Surf Life Savers for a life guard to patrol the popular Mindil Beach during the dry season, when there are plenty of tourists and locals alike who are looking to enjoy the sun, the sand and the surf. Why should this be a problem, you might ask? Well, one of them is whether or not the presence of a life guard effectively endorses swimming in the water that might be home to crocodiles, jellyfish, stingrays, sharks, sunburnt Poms and other nefarious creatures. One of these creatures always sets alarm bells ringing, and it's not the Poms.

Various interviews were conducted by the media, would you go swimming on the beach where more and more crocodiles are being spotted? And let's not mention the box jellyfish that, while generally restricted to the wet season, can occasionally be found in small numbers during the dry.

My opinion is that the point is being missed here. From 2006 to 2007 over 270 people died in Australia from drowning, and although this was reduced in the following year it still represented an alarming number of deaths that should have been avoided. In contrast, the number of crocodile-related fatalities in that period can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and none have ever occurred on or near the beaches of Darwin which are part of a no tolerance crocodile exclusion zone. While it is true that more crocodiles are moving around the coast than ever before, and while we are doing everything we can to increase crocodile safety and increase awareness of crocodiles, there has to be a point where it's all put into perspective. Even driving to the beach is considerably more dangerous than the remote chance of being attacked by a crocodile there.

People need information about crocodiles so they can make their own informed choices about safety. Having Life Savers on the beach is mainly about addressing drowning deaths, and that is a good thing. People won't stop swimming just because you don't have a life guard on duty, but the presence of one will greatly reduce risk. Do we really want to head down the slippery slope of banning any activity that has a remote chance of ending badly? Should we just stay at home and not get out of bed to maximise our chances of living another day? I don't think so... unless of course we are concerned about the possibility of a tree falling on the house. Life is indeed full of risks - where do we draw the line?