OAK ISLAND — The Town of Oak Island is defending its shores after being listed as one of the most dangerous beaches in the U.S. last month.
The online travel publication Travel Lens listed the Brunswick County beach as the eighth most dangerous in the country based on surf zone fatalities, shark attacks and number of hurricanes.
Travel Lens compiled its three data sets into a weighted table to give each town a “normalized score” out of 10. It then took an average to get an overall danger score out of 10.
The Town of Oak Island criticized the list’s methodology.
“This article presents heavily as an example of ‘clickbait,’ where its goal seems to be soliciting emotion-driven readership more than providing relevant information on actual danger,” reads the town’s statement.
The town says the list is compiled with minimal statistics and no additional variables to create its “non-scientific” danger scale.
The study states eight people have died in Oak Island’s surf zones and two have been attacked by sharks since 2010. With 58 hurricanes on record, the town earned a “danger score’ of 5.54, with 10 being the max score.
According to Oak Island, the article fails to contextualize the numbers with the town’s 40,000-plus visitors each summer season, which equates to half a million visitors over the list’s studied timeframe. In the off-season, Oak Island has a 9,000 residential population.
As of July 10, 2022, four people had died in waters off Oak Island that year, leading many to attribute the fatalities to Oak Island’s lack of lifeguards. The town has cited steep financial costs to hire and equip lifeguards over its 10 miles of beach as the reason for not taking that safety measure.
No other beach towns in Brunswick County employ lifeguards. Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach are paying around $600,000 this fiscal year to staff their shorelines.
Oak Island has established a Beach Services Unit with three patrolling vehicles per day. It also partners with the Jack Helbig Memorial Foundation to provide 68 water safety stations with rescue tubes at all public accesses.
The town has deployed an “aggressive” public education campaign on the renovation and public use of emergency vehicle beach access locations; in the past, the town has reported a lack of emergency vehicle accessibility at some of its tough-to-maneuver accesses.
Some community members have argued those measures are not enough and won’t be until lifeguards are part of the operation.
Based on data from the United States Lifesaving Association and affiliated lifeguard agencies, the chance of someone drowning with a USLA lifeguard nearby is 1 in 18 million.
“Articles like this do a disservice to the first responders within the Oak Island Police Department, Oak Island Fire Department, EMS and Oak Island Water Rescue; who serve this community with utmost skill and professionalism,” the Oak Island statement reads.
While not on the top 10 most dangerous beaches list, two other North Carolina beaches were singled out in other rankings. Ocracoke Island came in the number 10 in surf zone fatalities with five deaths. Ocean Isle tied for sixth in shark attacks with three incidents.
Other towns on the most dangerous list include Myrtle Beach at number five with 15 surf zone fatalities, nine shark attacks and 31 hurricanes.
Florida towns occupy seven slots on the list, with the number one “most dangerous beach” being New Smyrna Beach with 10 surf zone fatalities, 32 shark attacks and 120 hurricanes.
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