11,000 beaches now available

An ambitious project to visit each of Australia’s 11,011 beaches and develop a standard map of their vital characteristics has been concluded, with the results soon to be made available to the public and to other organisations who depend on reliable information about the country’s coastline.

It is the first time the coast of any continent has been documented to such an extent, and will significantly improve Surf Life Saving Australia’s (SLSA’s) understanding of the country’s coastline and its ability to provide safety services.

SLSA’s CEO, Greg Nance, said the Australian Beach Safety and Management Program (ABSAMP) which was undertaken in conjunction with Sydney University’s Coastal Studies Unit, was one of a number of research projects currently underway which will make our beaches safer.

The sheer scope of the task to visit each beach in the country and document everything from its distance to the nearest town to its sand type has been quite daunting, however the information now forms the basic building block for delivery of improved beach safety services, he said.

The director of the project and the only man to have visited every beach in Australia, Professor Andrew Short from the University of Sydney, says the programme began in 1987 when Surf Life Saving New South Wales contacted the State government with a proposal to document each of the 721 beaches in that State.

Since then I have visited 1,488 beaches in the Northern Territory, 1,719 in Queensland, 1,788 in South Australia, 1,114 in Tasmania, 692 in Victoria and 3,489 in Western Australia, so I have seen the best and worst of them, he said.

The history and objectives of the ABSAMP project were outlined by SLSA at the Coast to Coast 2004 conference held in Tasmania As part of its efforts to build the most accurate picture of what is happening around the Australian coastline, SLSA also collects data on drownings and other incidents such as injuries, rescues and first aid.

Greg Nance says that the provision of accurate data will become even more important as demographic trends put further pressure on the country’s coastal regions.

As increased numbers of people use our beaches and coastline, SLSA needs to be smarter about the way we collect and use information, and this program, part of our integrated Information Technology strategy, is one way we are doing this, he said.

The public will be able to view basic information such as the location of the beach, safety services and suitability for swimming, surfing and fishing later in the year with more detailed information available to interested organisations by subscription.