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Supervising Canada's Ocean Playground

Dean Sangster with the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service watches the waters at Melmerby Beach on Monday.
Dean Sangster with the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service watches the waters at Melmerby Beach on Monday. - File Photo

Melmerby Beach is a jewel in Pictou County’s summer crown. Tourists and locals alike go there in the tens of thousands each year for the warm and calm water that is characteristic of our Northumberland shoreline.

But it doesn’t take much for the North Shore to turn dangerous, and when that happens its best to be inside the red and yellow lifeguard flags.

“There is potential in an ocean beach like the Merb, where rip currents can form, even when you’re not expecting them,” said Kali Caulier, who has spent the last eight summers working with the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service and has seven years of experience guarding Melmerby Beach.

Caulier has been involved in numerous rescues involving rip currents, a strong current that forms when water that is trapped between the shoreline and a sandbar finds an exit and rushes out to sea.

“If there are waves crashing, which I can’t say happens often at the Merb, then there will be calm sections that look darker,” explained Caulier. “That’s where water is actually rushing back out.”

Graphic explains a rip current

Graphic explains a rip current

“It’s better to be where the waves are, because that’s where the water is coming in rather than going out.”

For the last 46 years the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service has been training and employing some of Canada’s best lifeguards. Director Paul D’Eon has been with the service since 1974 and during that time he has seen first-hand how quickly Melmerby Beach can change.

“The whole north coast of Nova Scotia is a very precarious and peculiar bunch of beaches. We’ve had rescues from Heather Beach right up to Inverness,” D’Eon told The News.

“We get a north wind and all of a sudden these beaches that were perfectly safe can become quite dangerous, and Melmerby is a good example.”

“There have been several incidents where we’ve had collapsing sand bars and as much as 10 or 12 people will have to be brought back in,” he said. “A couple of times, if we hadn’t gotten there within a minute or two, then we’d have tragedies.”

NSLS lifeguards record every incident that comes up during supervised hours. Whether it be a water rescue, giving a band aid, or talking to patrons about jellyfish, it all gets written down.

For the six rescues at Melmerby last year, NSLS beach statistics from 2018 also show that there were 115 recorded proactive interventions.

“The big numbers are preventions, and we like to keep it that way,” said D’Eon.

“We definitely prefer preventing,” said Caulier. “We like to talk to the people on the beach and let them know that we’re here to help. If people have any questions about safety or what’s best on the beach, then come ask us.”

The first day of supervision is on June 29.

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