GRIM SEARCH: Emergency services personnel scour the beach at Cosy Corner in search of Irish tourist Stuart Butler who disappeared while surfing.
GRIM SEARCH: Emergency services personnel scour the beach at Cosy Corner in search of Irish tourist Stuart Butler who disappeared while surfing. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Beach safety changes stall amid coordination, budget issues

ONE year after the disappearance and presumed drowning of Irish backpacker Stuart Butler in Byron Bay, stakeholders are still to decide what, if any, course of action should be taken to prevent a similar tragedy occurring in the future.

Mr Butler is presumed drowned after he was caught in a rip while surfing at Cosy Corner below Cape Byron on July 19, 2014.

Despite extensive air, land and sea searches Mr Butler's body and surfboard were never recovered.

Byron mayor Simon Richardson said a meeting involving key stakeholders including representatives from surf lifesaving, marine park and headlands trust, council, surfing groups and backpackers would be organised in the next week.

"We're just trying to get everyone together so we can flesh out what different organisations and costs might be involved, who would have the responsibility to update it (warnings systems) etcetera," he said.

"Budgets are an issue. Ongoing management and control is an issue but we just need to get groups together so when we get to Christmas and summer this year we might have something in place."

Mr Richardson said it was an issue he had hoped to address earlier but staffing changeovers and difficulties co-ordinating the different stakeholders had delayed the process.

In March, Byron Bay Council rolled out 40 new signs to be installed at every beach in the shire. The signs provide a simple diagram showing beachgoers how to escape a rip.

The signs were a response to the coronial inquest into Mr Butler's death which heard the Irishman and his friends were unaware of warnings that had been issued for dangerous four-metre swells and 30-knot southerly winds.

Levi Fahrenholtz, who managed to drift with the rip to safety to Wategos, told the inquiry the three friends would never have entered the water had they been aware of the warnings.

State Coroner Michael Barnes concluded Byron Bay needs better surf warning systems to prevent tourists from drowning.

"The stark reality is they should not have entered the surf from Tallows Beach on the day in question and that when they did they unwittingly put their lives at risk," Mr Barnes said.

"Young men are notorious risk takers. However, I am satisfied that had Mr Butler and his colleagues realised how dangerous the seas were they would not have exposed themselves to the risks that they did when they went into the water on the day."

Mr Barnes recommended local accommodation providers provide weather alerts and warnings to travellers and that Byron Shire Council consider installing signs at Tallows Beach that are updated daily with current information about surf conditions.

Surf Life Saving NSW spokeswoman Donna Wishart said the organisation was creating a database of backpackers and hostels that could be issued with early waning emails of dangerous weather conditions.

Ms Wishart said the database was currently being used by about 30 accommodation providers in the far north region with plans to expand the number before summer.


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