Bay of Plenty community leaders have come together to help curb the region's dire drowning statistics.
The group will work in with Water Safety New Zealand to create a new water safety strategy for the Bay, which has the second highest number of New Zealand drownings, next to Auckland.
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills said every region in New Zealand faced its own challenges when it came to drowning prevention. The way forward was for the solutions to be community-led with real engagement at a grassroots level.
"Despite all the efforts from everyone over the last 10 years, the drowning toll isn't coming down.
"Something has to change. We need a cultural shift in the way we approach water safety. We need communities to get involved and lead the change."
This emphasis on collaboration and delivery at a regional level was a reflection of widespread agreement among water safety sector stakeholders that business as usual would not achieve the desired water safety outcomes.
There were 12 preventable drowning fatalities in Bay of Plenty last year, up from seven in 2016. Auckland had 22.
Mills said engagement with iwi and Maori organisations in Bay of Plenty was crucial to the strategy's success.
"Maori are overrepresented in Bay of Plenty drownings. Between 2007 and 2016, the Maori drowning rate in Bay of Plenty was higher than the national average. This requires engagement with community leaders who understand the issues."
The governance group set up by Water Safety New Zealand to lead the strategy in Bay of Plenty is made up of:
• Kevin Winters – Bay of Plenty Regional Council elected member
• Shirley Baker – Sport Bay of Plenty board member
• Jonty Mills – Water Safety New Zealand chief executive
• Reon Tuanau – Te Runanga o Ngai Te Rangi Iwi Trust
• Mark Hemmingway – NZ Sport Fishing Council board member
• Chris Emmett – Surf Life Saving regional manager, Eastern Region
The four main activity areas the group plans to focus on are water safety skills development, recreational boating safety, freshwater safety, and beach and ocean safety. These activities have different challenges as well as different stakeholders. The final plan will be tailored to the specific circumstances of Bay of Plenty and will identify the priority initiatives and investment priorities for each activity area.
Mills said in the next two to three years, a series of regional water safety strategies will be set up from direct engagement with regional organisations.
"The objective is to develop co-ordinated and collaborative action plans to help reduce drowning deaths and injuries and build a culture of safe enjoyment around water."
The group will meet next week in Tauranga, Whakatane and Rotorua.
More on the water safety strategy can be found here.