Do more non-locals vs. locals drown here? The spatial and temporal characteristics of surf-zone drownings along the Alabama-Florida Gulf Coast

Authors: Carol F. Sawyer*, University of South Alabama, Frances C. Mujica, University of South Alabama, Amber Oney, University of South Alabama
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Coastal and Marine
Keywords: hazards, tourism, coastal environment
Session Type: Virtual Poster
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 51
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The 140 miles of beaches extending from Dauphin Island, AL, to Mexico Beach, FL, is a popular year-round tourist destination. This region spans multiple jurisdictions and stretches over five counties in two states. As with any warm-water tourist destination, the surf zones in this region contain natural hazards, most notably rip currents, that visitors may not understand or take seriously. As the area extends through so many jurisdictions and with traditional sources of drowning data (i.e. the CDC), only reporting data on a county or a municipal level and not always differentiating between pool, fresh water, surf zone, and deep-water drownings, this project developed the spatial and temporal distribution of surf zone drownings that occurred from 2000 to 2020. Three databases were used to collect the gender, age, and hometown of drowning victims, as well as the location of their drowning, posted warnings, and the situation, if reported, of the drownings. Over 250 drownings occurred in this area during the time period with 88% of the victims were male. The average age of the victims was 38 years old. Rip currents were prevalent in the region and several local beaches have adopted flags warning of dangerous conditions (yellow, red, or double red flags) and the National Weather Service now issues rip current forecasts for the region. In spite of these warnings, over 50% of the drownings occurred during posted warnings and 14% of the victims were trying to rescue another swimmer in distress.

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