The Cocles Lifeguard Project – What it is and why you should support it
Phase 1: Tragedy prompts action
The statistics could have made grisly headlines:
“5 people drown in 8 days on spectacular but deadly Cocles beach.”
Those tragic deaths around Easter 2001 on Cocles beach galvanized a few individuals into action to help prevent further loss of life. Dean, a lifeguard from the Baywatch beach area of USA and his girlfriend Rosario, organised a group of lifeguards, funded by local donations. The initial goal was to maintain one lifeguard per day. And so the Cocles Lifeguard project was born.
Phase 2: Training & Problems!
In 2002 Eddie Ryan and Charlie Wanger became involved, taking over from the founders. This second phase involved the National Association of Costa Rica Lifeguards, training local candidates to a professional level of expertise involving extensive in-water training and 1st Aid.
Cocles Lifeguard project funded half the cost of the lifeguard training course and candidates paid the remaining half in the understanding of employment once qualified. Seven candidates were trained.
However, things did not go smoothly. Three experienced lifeguards from the Central Valley (sent to Puerto Viejo to assist new candidates) became dissatisfied with the housing conditions and meagre salary, whilst the association wanted to take over the programme. Midway through the first collection drive the association lifeguards left town with the donations and over $US 2000 of equipment!
So it was back to the drawing board…
Phase 3: 2003 to Present situation.
The current program was initiated 25th August 2003. This involves a team of 3 lifeguards working a shift system, so that there are 2 lifeguards present from 09.00hrs to 17.00hrs each day, 7 days a week.
The administration is still voluntarily undertaken by Eddie Ryan but encouraging and obtaining adequate donations to fund the project remains a constant struggle.
The Financial Picture.
Despite a list of approximately 70 business donors, Cocles Lifeguard project has a current deficit of Colones 50,000 and operates at a loss of Colones 125,000 monthly. Although a certain number of businesses donate willingly and regularly, some cannot be relied upon to consistently contribute. From the 70 businesses currently listed only 31 have consistently contributed during 2009. Obviously this reflects important lost revenue with far reaching consequences.
The minimum monthly bill for running Cocles Lifeguard service now stands at approximately Colones 660,000. If the lifeguards can expect a small salary increase and in accordance with labour law would be paid Aguinaldo, Socio Seguro and Riesgos de Trabajo, the monthly bill would increase to approximately Colones 750,000.
The expenses can be broken down as follows:
• Salaries of Lifeguards: Currently paid Colones 11,000 per day. Lifeguards are responsible for their own Riesgos de Trabajo, Aguinaldo and Socio Seguro.
• Donations Collector: Paid 7% of donations collected.
• 1st Aid kit & Equipment: Incidental expenses for replacing 1st Aid supplies and equipment such as flags, fins and flotation boards.
So what does that mean for our Lifeguard Service?
Due to the financial deficit, the lifeguard service was forced to cut back to 1 lifeguard per day instead of the required pair. The remaining 2 lifeguards of the team were laid off due to the inability to pay them. By laying them off for two months the project anticipated using the saved salaries to reinstate the full team for the busy month of December.
On 1st December 2009 the service was able to operate normally again with 2 lifeguards on duty.
A real problem here is that if these two qualified lifeguards cannot be permanently re-employed it is probable that they will find other work and become unavailable. Without a team of 3 lifeguards, the service is severely compromised.
An important point to remember is that it takes 2 lifeguards to offer a rescue service. A single lifeguard can only offer preventive services, due to the significant danger of rescuing a swimmer in trouble.
In conclusion, that means that our Lifeguard service is severely compromised and the lifeguards lack job security despite their commitment and the significant level of responsibility demanded of them.
A Noble Project.
Cocles beach is not only well known for exciting surfing (and strong rip tides) but also well documented in numerous travel guides/websites. Consequently it is visited by a large volume of people, locals and visitors alike. Wherever visitors are staying they are likely to spend some time on Cocles beach, if only because everyone from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo travels past it at one point or another and it is so immediately accessible. For an area such as this where survival depends on healthy tourism numbers, the need for a lifeguard service is obvious.
In conversation with Eddie, it was clear how committed he is to maintaining this invaluable service and his belief that it could be expanded to increase the safety at beaches from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo. Justly proud of this service, he stated that this is the only community in Costa Rica that has kept a lifeguard programme running for so many years. Though there have times when Eddie felt like giving up on the problematic administration of the service, just last December Costa de Papito’s bartender got into serious difficulties at Cocles beach. He was rescued by the lifeguards and lived to swim another day.
Lifeguards have rescued more than 1,500 swimmers at Cocles beach since the service began. That is a lot of lives that have been saved. Estimates of how many deaths have been prevented run into the thousands.
Save our Lifeguards so they can Save you!
If this lifeguard service can not only be saved from extinction but expanded, the whole area stands to benefit – and not only by diminishing the number of deaths on the beaches.
But a salutary thought is that if this lifeguard service were to disappear through lack of funding, how would we feel the next time someone drowns? Without a lifeguard service there will certainly be too many ‘next times’.
Many thanks to Eddie Ryan for all the information contained in this article and for giving so generously of his time and insights into Cocles Lifeguard project.
|Article by Zoë Courtier. Zoë along with her husband Tom Keller are the proprietors of Geckoes Rainforest River Lodge. Two luxurious holiday houses with private plunge pools in a magnificent rainforest and river setting minutes from Playa Cocles. More information at www.geckoeslodge.com