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The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is a voluntary non-profit organization in South Africa tasked with saving lives at Sea. The NSRI’s illustrious career started back in1967 with the Society of Master Mariner’s donation of one 4.7m inflatable craft. There were two volunteers.
By Jennifer Ponder

It is with grateful thanks to NSRI’s Meriel Bartlett, executive Director: Organisation Support, who has given this once ‘city slicker’ such a powerful and compelling perspective of the NSRI’s staggering contributions to those of us living in and visiting the shores of Southern Africa. Not only are our lives considered precious by the members of the NSRI, but also our wildlife.

Today, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is run by over 1 000 highly skilled, unpaid volunteers who are on stand-by day and night throughout the year. Thirty one bases are situated around the coast, including four of our inland rivers and dams. The NSRI are also the proud custodians of 96 rescue craft, 38 rescue vehicles, 16 quad bikes and 11 tractors.

With annual running costs being in the region of a staggering R73.4m, how this phenomenal growth since 1967 been achieved, is amazing; and the NSRI certainly has a clear-cut understanding of what is required to keep the momentum moving forward.

I also learnt that the over 1 000 volunteers who are on call to watch over us day and night, in all weathers and sea conditions, often risking their lives at our expense, save the NSRI a salary bill in excess of R250 million per year.

South Africa has the second highest ratio of deaths by drowning, with 52% being below the age of 15. With these harsh statistics before them, new and innovative ideas are always being looked at so the the NSIR put their heads together and in 2006 the WaterWise Academy was born.

The Academy targets disadvantaged youth. At this point in time they have grown to having twelve instructors spread out over South Africa (both coastal and inland) where children are taught the basics of water safety. Since Waterwise’s inception, it can be very proud of its achievements, having so far taught in the region of over 888 000 children.

Much of South Africa’s wildlife, as we know, is becoming increasingly endangered, and this includes our marine creatures. Entanglement in nets, ropes and floats of lobster or whelp traps is a grim reality with grave consequences. Once entangled, the ropes restrict the animal and the floats prevent it from being able to dive and feed, leading to a distressingly slow and agonizing death.

Imagine a magnificent 9m Southern Right juvenile whale caught up in four ropes around its front flippers, over its back and wrapped between the two flippers, along with two small flotation buoys. It was only due to the NSRI’s quick action, who together with a highly specialized and skilled team of experts who have perfected the art of cutting in these hazardous circumstances, that this awe -inspiring creature of the deep, was able to once again swim free.

The above rescue turned my thoughts to the sight of a school of jubilant dolphins leaping with such boundless energy and elation out of the sea, their wet bodies an arch of glistening sea droplets.

On this particular day though, two dolphins, a mother and her calf, found themselves at low tide stranded in a channel of shallow water with no way of escape. All attempts at freeing them-selves proved futile. A passerby, seeing the predicament of mother and baby, called the NSRI, who true to their style took immediate action. Mother and calf were carefully secured onto a medical trauma board, loaded onto the rescue craft and transported out into the open sea resulting in yet another gratifying and successful rescue.

Many such success stories abound in the annals of the NSRI. When we look at these awesome creatures that inhabit our ocean, and understand how many dangers we humans put before them, or put ourselves into, our grateful thanks must go out to these dedicated NSRI volunteers, and their associates, who make themselves available day and night, in all weather and sea conditions to save lives – be it tiny mouse, giant whale or us humans the gallant NSRI rescue team is dedicated to all creatures, great and small. Thank you.

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