RIP currents warning sign at Big Bay. Picture: Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)
RIP currents warning sign at Big Bay. Picture: Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)

City of Cape Town partners with NSRI in rip current experiment

By Robin-Lee Francke Time of article published Oct 19, 2021

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CAPE TOWN: The City of Cape Town has partnered with the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) to do an experiment to expose rip currents.

Rip currents are powerful channels of fast-moving water.

A rip is an area that is often without wave activity and appears darker and deceptively calmer than the rest of the ocean.

These currents move fast and can be deadly, as panicked swimmers often try to counter them by swimming straight back to shore – putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue.

The first-of-its-kind experiment for Cape Town will use non-toxic fluorescein dye to expose the flow of rip currents, which will assist in beach safety education and awareness efforts.

The City’s Parks and Recreation Department, together with the NSRI Drowning Prevention team, are working on the research project studying rip currents and developing educational content, based on aerial footage filmed in the False Bay and Table Bay areas.

A research permit has been issued by the National Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment for the deployment of a dye that will highlight and visually expose the flow of rip currents in the ocean.

The dye is non-toxic to the environment and people.

The captured footage will be used as part of a focused rip current, beach safety public awareness campaign, for the summer season ahead.

According to the global best practice among ocean researchers, the NSRI has been granted the permit to deploy the fluorescein dye.

Fluorescein is commonly used by scientists and plumbers in different water tracer experiments, as well as by carp fishermen, and is harmless.

The rip current research team identified a strong likelihood that rip currents will occur on Wednesday.

Researchers managed to make this evaluation using the South African Weather Service’s experimental rip current forecast model, along with their standard operational coastal forecast systems.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien said one of the top reasons for drownings at Cape Town’s beaches is swimming where no lifeguards are present.

He said the absence of lifeguards is the first indicator to a swimmer that it isn’t safe to swim there.

“Aside from emergency rescues, City lifeguards work closely with the NSRI to examine the surf and determine the safest swimming beaches.

“Only beaches where the red and yellow flags are put up, and where lifeguards are on duty, are deemed safe.

“Outside of those areas, the coastline can be deceptively attractive for bathers looking for a quiet spot or secluded area to swim.

“In many instances, the surf is unsafe and bathers can quickly lose their lives in the unfortunate event that they get caught in a rip current,” Badroodien said.

He said the City of Cape Town is always looking for ways to use technology and experience to find new ways to educate the public on water safety, especially as beaches get busy during the festive season.

“We appreciate the positive working relationship with the NSRI and look forward to taking advantage of the powerful medium of social media to share the video footage with the public, raising awareness of the dangers of the ocean to encourage swimming in areas clearly marked safe, and where lifeguards are on duty,” Badroodien added.

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