The installation of ‘angel rings’ at high risk rock fishing spots on Auckland’s west coast beaches could help save lives this summer, but wearing a lifejacket should still be the number one priority for rock fishers.
The partnership between the Auckland Regional Council (ARC), WaterSafe Auckland Inc., Surf Life Saving Northern Region has launched another trial initiative to reduce the number of rock fishing fatalities on Auckland’s west coast beaches.
Angel rings are circular buoyant flotation devices that can keep a person afloat until help arrives. They are also known as life buoys or life rings. Like the strongly recommended use of lifejackets or personal flotation devices (PFD’s) and rescue services, angel rings play an important part in the ‘layers of protection’ in drowning prevention at high-risk fishing sites. This year’s angel ring trial follows a similar programme carried out in New South Wales and builds upon the research, education and behaviour change aspects discovered through the west coast rock fishing safety project which finished earlier this year. The initial three-year west coast rock fishing safety project encouraged rock fishers to wear lifejackets, check weather conditions, wear appropriate clothing and always carry a mobile phone with them when rock fishing. The outcomes of this pilot project have gone on to be part of the partner organisations’ ongoing work programmes.
Chair of the ARC Parks and Heritage Committee Sandra Coney says angel rings will be installed at well-known rock fishing black spots, where fatalities have occurred in the past. “We are installing the angel rings at popular rock fishing spots at Whatipu, Piha and Muriwai before Christmas in time for the busy summer period. Rings will also be installed at Karekare, Bethells Beach and Whites Beach after the New Year,” she says.
“Permanent safety signs and brochures will be installed along with the angel rings, so fishers will be aware of how to use the rings in the event of an emergency. This initiative could help save lives this summer, but it is important that rock fishers don’t treat these safety devices as a substitute for wearing a lifejacket,” Cr Coney says.
“A lifejacket is your best chance of surviving if you fall into the surf or get swept off the rocks by large swells. Fishers should also be checking the tide, surf and weather conditions and fish with a buddy,” she says.
The partner agencies are working with Safe Waitakere to install an angel ring at Bethells Beach in early 2009. Sites have been carefully chosen for the installation of angel rings says Surf Life Saving Northern Region lifesaving manager Dean Storey.
“We have recommended these sites based on our local knowledge, research, incident statistics and evidence from our organisations’ joint project.
“We have the support of each of the local surf clubs – which is vital in our ongoing monitoring of this trial and in measuring the success of angel rings in these locations,” he says. Angel rings will be installed using best practice methods learned from the successful New South Wales programme. Importantly, careful consideration will be given to the siting of each ring, including where they might best facilitate rescues without intruding on the natural views from the rock platforms.
The ongoing maintenance of angel rings equipment will be managed jointly between lifeguards in the summer season and regular park ranger work programmes. Successful initiatives used in New South Wales include equipment checks by volunteers and interest groups like fishing clubs, and this will also be investigated by the project group. The installation of angel rings is being endorsed by sporting legend Michael Jones, who was the face of the west coast rock fishing project in the summer of 2007-2008.
“Those of us that live in west Auckland know that our beautiful beaches can be harsh and should be treated with respect,” says the All Black and west coast local. “For the sake of your family, your community and so that you might enjoy this pastime for years to come – don’t put your life on the line. Wear a lifejacket and pay attention to the safety messages at these high risk locations,” he says. Project leader and ARC park ranger Stu Leighton says a large majority of rock fishers on Auckland’s west coast are from our region’s Asian and Pacific Island communities. “It’s key that the signage and brochures detailing how to use angel rings and messages which promote safe rock fishing methods are translated into English, Mandarin, Korean, Samoan and Tongan,” he says.
Asian and Polynesian language speaking safety advisors will be employed through January until March to help spread the word that it is vital to wear a lifejacket and to promote safe rock fishing practices, as well as ensuring fishers understand how to use an angel ring. WaterSafe Auckland Drowning Prevention Manager Teresa Stanley agrees that it is important
to continue to push for fishers to wear lifejackets at all times while out on the rocks. “While the three year trial was successful in getting fishers to wear lifejackets, there is this idea that it’s not cool or macho for fishers to wear lifejackets. But the consequences of not wearing a lifejacket are far more serious. We are following on from last year and offering a generous discount off the purchase off lifejackets to encourage fishers to wear them,” she says.
The discounts will offer $60 off the purchase of a Hutchwilco, Safety at Sea and RFD lifejackets, which will be available from rock fishing safety advisors, surf lifeguards and from the Friends of Whatipu volunteers. The lifejackets on offer include the new inflatable designs that are a lot less bulky than older designs.