In 1987 the STAR shockingly reported that some seventy percent of Saint Lucians could not swim. Nearly 30 years later, little in that regard has changed. Although surrounded by water, this 238 square mile landmass boasts numerous enticing beaches but no lifeguards. That is, with the exception of the beach near Sandals La-Toc. But lest you are tempted to say the lifeguards are there only for the protection of Sandals’ guests, please disabuse your mind: far more native Saint Lucians have benefitted from their life-saving attention than have visitors.
This year alone, four people have drowned at a local beach. The incidents have all occurred between July and August, when typically our beaches are particularly crowded.Following the most recent drowning on Sunday, there have been renewed calls for greater vigilance on our beaches. Increasingly people having been pleading with the government to take seriously the spate of drownings. Among those leading the charge are members of the Saint Lucia Life Saving Association, who are calling for “a sustained program of public awareness on water safety in general.”
Last Sunday, 30-year-old Vaughn Khodra drowned while snorkeling in the clear blue waters near Pigeon Island National Park where he had been celebrating his mother’s 61st birthday. The official cause of death according to his post mortem: “suffocation as a result of drowning”. He is being laid to rest today (Saturday) August 16.
Not too far from where Khodra lost his life is a lifeguard tower that bears a posted sign: “No lifeguard on duty”. Just a week earlier, at a public promotion, a lifeguard was, according to law, provided by the SLLSA. The event was barely over when he handed the promoter his bill, never mind that for most of the time the lifeguard tower was occupied only by well-filled bikinis.
This week the STAR spoke to David Hippolyte, General Manager of the National Conservation Authority, on the issue of lifeguard towers. The NCA is responsible for parks and beaches in Saint Lucia, and is behind the project at Pigeon Island where the lifeguard tower is erected. It is part of a rehabilitation of the area and includes public baths, vending shops and a kiosk. It is also supposed to include a children’s playground, when fully completed.
We asked Hippolyte why, since its completion more than two years ago, the tower has never been manned. His response: “The plan was always to have it manned and we are working with the Lifesavers Association to get this off the ground. We will be taking our cue from them.”
When asked whether he thought there should have been trained personnel in place before the tower was completed, Hippolyte said he could not speak of the plans before his tenure. He joined the NCA in September of 2012.
“What I can say is that this is something we are looking at and the truth is this project at Pigeon Island is not totally complete. The children’s playground for example, we are working with investors to come up with a management plan,” he says. “The issue of the lifeguards is also something which will have to be properly managed,” he added. Asked about the time frame for the institution of lifeguards on one of the more popular beach and recreational areas on island, Hippolyte could not give a definite commitment.
This week Carol Devaux, president of the Saint Lucia Life Saving Association had this to say about the tower at Pigeon Island; Tthat’s a false sense of security. You shouldn’t have towers if you don’t have people to man them.”Meanwhile Saint Lucians and visitors continue to flock to popular beaches like Vigie Beach, Sandy Beach, Sabwisha, Roseau, Cas En Bas, Reduit and Pigeon Point with no signs of lifeguards or even warning signs. Only the ominously invisible warning: “swim at your own peril”.