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Published: 2009-04-29 00:00:00

An Environment Waikato grant to Surf Life Saving Bay of Plenty (SLSBOP) has helped professional lifesavers meet higher demand for their services at Coromandel beaches over summer.

The funding worth $38,000 from EW helped SLSBOP fund a total of 5525 professional lifeguard hours at six beaches in 2008-09 compared to 4253 a year earlier, an increase of just under 30 per cent.

Figures from SLSBOP showed there were 92 actual rescues at the six patrolled beaches during the 2008-09 season compared to 48 a year earlier. That means there was about a 90 per cent increase in rescues performed.

The beaches were Hot Water Beach, Tairua, Pauanui, Onemana, Whangamata and Whiritoa. There were no drownings recorded at the beaches in either year.

SLSBOP said it believed more people were using the beaches over the 2008-09 summer due to warmer weather and because the economic climate meant more people were choosing to holiday closer to home.

It said a breakdown showed funding from Thames-Coromandel District Council and Hamilton City Council helped pay for lifeguards who saved 40 of the 92 lives, while funding from EW helped pay for the lifeguards’ time when the other 52 rescues were carried out. During the EW-funded time, the lifeguards also provided 268 first aid treatments for a range of conditions, some of which were life-threatening.

EW’s Thames-Coromandel councillor Simon Friar, who advocated for the council to provide the $38,000 to help pay for extra professional SLSBOP guard hours, said it was personally satisfying to see the funding helped meet the need for more rescues. He said that it seemed clear that without the funding lives may well have been lost. The grant amounted to a few cents from each ratepayer. "I feel certain that the community would be very happy with this expenditure.

"It’s great the money we provided has helped have such a positive result on the Coromandel beaches," said Cr Friar. "I’m a great believer in the idea that EW is about looking after people as well as the environment."

The EW funding was for 2008-09 only but Cr Friar said he would be asking EW to approach central Government to see if it would help with funds for next summer, and he would also explore other sources of funding.