In an effort to address the recent rip current related drowning cases in our area, the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium has partnered with Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore to increase public awareness regarding ocean swim safety.
“This is a critical issue for our area – there have been five rip-current related drowning incidents in New Jersey this season which is almost as many as there were in total last summer,” said Claire Antonucci, executive director of the Sea Grant Consortium, at an event held on the Asbury Park boardwalk last week. “There is no way to predict rip currents so the best defense is education.”
According to the Sea Grant Consortium, annually more than 80 percent of surf-related rescues are attributed to rip currents, defined as an area of unusual choppiness or discoloration with strong currents moving away from shore. Rip currents form when the pressure generated by trapped water in sandbars is strong enough to overcome incoming waves or when there is a lull in wave activity and excess water begins to flow back out to sea.
Last summer 30 Girl Scouts developed individual projects to help educate their peers about the dangers of rip currents. This year, almost double the number signed on to assist with a collective two-part project, adding Quick Response Code stickers to the Sea Grant Consortium’s rip current beach signage as well as inventorying the 2600 signs on 130 miles of New Jersey beaches.
“The nice thing about this project is that the girls see the results,” said Michele Masarik, outdoor program specialist for the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore. “The girls hear about people getting caught in the water and see the beach every day so this is very real for them. The program is working so well, we recently got the Central and Southern New Jersey chapter to agree to take on the beach signs south of us.”
The Quick Response Codes or “QR Codes,” black and white icons that can be scanned by smartphones via a free application, instantly direct beachgoers to a webpage detailing information about how to identify rip currents from the shoreline and actionable tips to remember if you are caught in a rip current. (Click here for the page online).
The webpage, available in both English and Spanish, also debunks the primary myth associated with rip currents.
“Rip currents push swimmers out to sea rather than pull under water, which many people are not aware of,” said Antonucci. “The best thing to do if you are caught in one is to try and relax. The water moves between two and eight feet a second and once the current passes the breakers it dissipates quickly and will release you. People desperately try to swim out of the current and drown because of exhaustion. An Olympic swimmer can’t swim her way out of a rip current.”
The Sea Grant Consortium recommends the following important steps if caught in a rip current: do not panic, do not fight the current, swim parallel to shore or float or tread water and wave to shore for help.
The education program is a collaborative effort between the Sea Grant Consortium, NOAA, Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore, Stevens Institute of Technology and the Jersey Shore Partnership Foundation and is funded in part by TD Bank and JCP&L.
“This all comes down to changing people’s behavior,” said Antonucci. “Being aware and changing behavior will save lives.”