Friday, April 8, 2011

Community organisation sets out to create ‘Safe Swim Zone’ for Grand Bahama

Shown L-R: Brad Scott and James Sarles, club members; Ken Saunders, incoming president; James Rose, past president; Wayne Russell, treasurer; Steven Dillet, assistant district governor; and Ivan Chestnut, club member. (Photo: Erik J. Russell / Keen i Media Ltd)

A local community organisation has launched a new initiative to create a ‘Safe Swim Zone’ along the south shore of Grand Bahama for the protection of visitors and residents alike.

The Rotary Club of Grand Bahama Sunrise has taken on a project that will enhance the tourist experience and make it just a little bit safer for everyone on Grand Bahama.

Members have embarked on a project to create a Safe Swim Zone all along the island’s southern coast by creating a distinct separation between boaters and jet ski operators on one side of the surf and swimmers on the other.

Over recent months, the project took Rotarians door-to-door of beachfront residences and businesses to help raise the funds required to purchase the materials and equipment needed to establish the safe swimming area. The funds will also continue the Rotary Club’s extensive year-round community support efforts.

This project has raised over $25,000 from concerned residents in the local community, and as a result, Rotarians have been able to purchase 260 polyethylene 16-inch diameter foam-filled buoys that were custom-made by Jim Buoy, in California. The next phase of this project is focused on placing them in the water.

The implementation stage will require additional donations to the Rotary Club, but for Immediate Past President of the Rotary Club of Grand Bahama Sunrise Jamie Rose this is a mission that is worth the effort and worthy of the continued support of the Grand Bahama community.

“The Safe Swim Zone project was brought on because there is a lot of abuse going on as far as [boaters] going in too close to the shore, and it showed a clear immediate danger for people who are going swimming off the beach,” Mr Rose said. “This was something that could really affect the community, safety-wise and tourism-wise. So, this will give an area that will show where the liability is for boaters. It gives boaters an area of responsibility,” he said.

The Safe Swim Zones will be designated at Taino Beach, Discovery Bay, Banana Bay, in front of the Coral Beach hotel, the entire stretch of the Silver Point jetty entrance, Bell Channel and past Smith’s Point, Spanish Main, and as far east as the Grand Lucayan Waterway.

Mr Rose explained: “The law states that boats have to stay 200 feet away from the high tide mark, but 200 feet away is often violated by boaters. So, for people by the water, especially in the summer, it poses a threat to their safety. Jet skiers, banana boat operators – generally, they are all operating inside 200 feet – not necessarily because they are in defiance of the law, but because there is no clear line showing them what the distance is.”

According to Mr Rose, volunteers will install the buoys, and large concrete moorings will be used to anchor the buoys in the water so that they will stay in place all year. The moorings have been specially designed to also provide a safe habitat for marine life such as crawfish and fish. He noted that this would be an ongoing maintenance project for Rotarians in Grand Bahama.

Betty Bethel, general manager of business development at the Ministry of Tourism, said the project is a timely one as the ministry is concerned about tourist safety on the beaches.

“There is a concern of creating a swim zone for guests because we do have a lot of illegal operators on the beach, primarily in the Lucaya area, and we have been aggressively addressing that along with the police department and the port director,” she said.

Mrs Bethel applauded Rotary for taking the initiative as a private organization and living up to the ministry’s slogan “tourism is everybody’s business” and for helping to improve the tourism product on Grand Bahama. She said that the ministry has been working with the Royal Bahamas Police Force — the Lucaya station in particular — to have a stronger police presence on the beach.

Mr Rose said that a key element of their efforts is to help raise awareness about the purpose and function of the Safe Swim Zone. “Part of the goal will be for us to have signage placed throughout public access points to the beaches, in the hotel lobbies and areas where the public can actually get through to the beach.” Mr Rose explained that the signs will state what the buoy line is, how it was installed, where the funding came from and informing swimmers that they should stay inside this buoy line for their own safety.

“We have been in talks with commercial operators who utilise that stretch of beach so they are aware that the project is ongoing and are fully supportive of it as well,” Rose said.

Installation of the Safe Swim Zone buoy system is expected to begin on May 7, 2011.

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