RESEARCHERS from Royal Life Saving and James Cook University will be breathalysing and surveying swimmers at the Noreuil Park foreshore this week, in a bid to determine why so many people have drowned in the nation’s waterways.
Of the 68 Murray River drownings since 2002/2003, five of them have occurred on the Border.
That figure makes the Noreuil Park bend one of the most dangerous places to swim – and that’s not counting some of the risks swimmers in general take around the water.
Amy Peden, national manager of research and policy for the RLS and a PhD candidate at JCU, will be conducting the research throughout the week.
With the average blood alcohol content of drowning victims in Australia an alarming 0.20 per cent, she said it was important to understand attitudes towards drinking and swimming, to better educate people in the future.
“Looking at drowning statistics in my job with the RLS, I’ve seen alcohol play a big factor,” Ms Peden said.
“The fact that the average BAC of victims is so high is concerning – that’s what led us to do this research.
“Identifying alcohol consumption patterns and attitudes towards drinking and aquatic activity are vital given the strong association between alcohol and river drowning.
“It’s thought alcohol consumption leads to increased risk taking, and a failure to see dangers like snags, current and rocks until it is too late.”
Ms Peden and her team have been targeting a series of river blackspots in Queensland and NSW, including spending the weekend just gone in Wagga.
The focus of her research will be on the effect drinking has on behaviour around water.
“The culture of drinking while swimming, boating and fishing at local rivers is a big part of the drowning problem,” she said.
“Understanding how commonplace drinking is, and how it influences risk taking is one of the main reasons we’re collecting this data in the field.”
Farrer MP Sussan Ley has thrown her support behind the research, which she hoped would lead to a drop in drowning deaths on the Murray.
“This is really important research which I hope can lead to fewer deaths on inland waterways, which are still tragically over-represented in overall drowning statistics,” she said.
“The Murray is beautiful but it also hides some hidden dangers, so keep an eye on your mates and remember the messaging that alcohol and water really don’t mix.”
Ms Peden will work from Noreuil foreshore from Monday to next Sunday.
The culture of drinking while swimming, boating and fishing at local rivers is a big part of the drowning problem.Amy Peden