As the summer draws to a close, the Canary Islands, together with the Balearic Islands, continue to be the only autonomous community in Spain where the number of drowning deaths exceeds the number of deaths caused by road accidents. Of the 169 drownings in Spain up to August, 43 of them occurred in the Canary Islands.
As 2022 came to a close, a comprehensive analysis by the Association for the Prevention of Drowning, Canarias, 1.500 Km de Costa, revealed an unsettling statistic: The Canary Islands continue to experience more deaths due to drowning than from road accidents. This pattern has been consistently observed since July 2018, when Decree 116/2018 was enacted to regulate safety measures at beaches across the archipelago. Interestingly, even major tourist municipalities have recently requested a further extension of this decree.
Between July and August of this year, 12 individuals lost their lives to drowning in the Canary Islands, a drop of 18% compared to the same period last year. However, overall aquatic accidents rose by 44% in the summer months. As of the end of August 2023, the archipelago recorded 43 drowning deaths, two more than the corresponding period last year and 11 more than in 2021. Notably, a staggering 85% of bathers entered the sea under adverse conditions. Two more drowning fatalities have already occurred in Fuerteventura this September.
In August alone, there were seven deaths, one critical injury, and multiple other injuries and rescues. July saw 15 incidents, including four fatalities. On average, five bathers lost their lives each month, mirroring last year’s statistics. Different months showed varying mortality rates, according to official data.
Canary Islands: 143 accidents
In addition to the 43 deaths, the tally of aquatic accidents included three people in critical condition, 17 seriously injured, 32 moderately injured, 10 slightly injured, and 40 successfully rescued. Of these casualties, a diverse group of nationals from eight countries were represented, along with Spanish citizens and those of unknown nationality. Most victims were male, and a large proportion were over the age of 60.
By activity type, the majority of fatalities involved bathers, followed by divers, fishermen, water sports enthusiasts, and others. Geographically, Gran Canaria led in terms of fatalities, followed by Tenerife, Fuerteventura, and other islands. The majority of drownings took place at beaches during the afternoon.
In total, Spain witnessed 169 drowning deaths in the first half of 2023, up from 140 in 2022; 43 of these occurred in the Canary Islands.
José Miguel Rodríguez Fraga, mayor of Adeje and president of the Association of Tourist Municipalities of the Canary Islands (AMTC), called for delaying the implementation of the beach safety decree to equip municipalities adequately. However, Sebastián Quintana, the promoter of Canarias 1,500 km de Costa, expressed surprise at this request, pointing out the repeated extensions and the unpreparedness of 65% of Canary municipalities even four years post-decree.
Quintana estimated that the archipelago currently requires between 1,000 and 1,500 lifeguards to meet legal requirements. He urged that this shouldn’t be viewed as an expense but an investment, stressing that affluent municipalities with substantial tourism income should be the last to request extensions. Quintana argued for a unified approach, involving local councils and the Government of the Canary Islands, to equip beaches with the necessary human, technical, and material resources.