Rip currents claim more lives in Australia
on average each year than bushfires, floods, cyclones and sharks combined, University of New South Wales
Rip currents are the cause of an average 21%
confirmed human fatalities per year, compared with 5.9% for bushfires, 4.3% for
floods, 7.5% for cyclones and 1% for sharks.
"Rips account for greater overall loss
of human life than other high profile natural hazards. Yet they do not get
anywhere near as much attention and dedicated funding," says Dr Rob
Brander, a coastal geomorphologist at UNSW, and lead author of the study.
The study is published in the journal Natural
Hazards and Earth Science Systems.
Australia has about 11 000 mainland beaches
with an estimated 17 500 rip currents operating at any given time. Rip currents
are strong, narrow seaward-flowing currents that can easily carry unsuspecting
swimmers significant distances offshore, leading to exhaustion, panic and often
An analysis of data from Australia's
National Coronial Information System shows there was an average of 21 confirmed
deaths involving rips per year during the period 2004 to 2011.
"And this is likely to be an
underestimate because there has to be a witness to an event who saw the person
was caught in a rip, and then this information has to be included in the
coronial report," says Dr Brander, a co-author on the study which was
published earlier this year and led by researchers from Surf Life Saving
Almost always present
For the new study Dr Brander's team used
information from the Australian Emergency Management Institute National
Disaster Database to identify the average number of deaths per year caused by
tropical cyclones, bushfires and floods since the mid-to-late 1800s.
In addition, the Australian Shark Attack
File administered by Taronga Zoo in Sydney shows there has been an average of
one death a year since 1962.
"Other types of hazards, like
bushfires, have the capacity to claim large numbers of lives in a single event.
On the other hand, rip currents are almost always present and rarely result in
more than one death at a time. But in the end, more people die as a result of
them," says Dr Brander.
"As rip currents are a global problem,
it is hoped that this study can be applied in other countries to more
appropriately place the rip current hazard in perspective and in context with
other natural hazard types."
Picture: Rip Current from Shutterstock