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City reopens beaches along the Rockaways after thorough search for sharks

Rockaway Beach (Google Maps)

Aug. 9, 2023 By Bill Parry

The city’s Parks Department reopened the beaches along the 10-mile stretch of the Rockaways Wednesday morning after a thorough search of the shoreline determined it was safe to allow swimmers back into the water. The FDNY and NYPD used drone technology to ensure the shoreline was clear after an Astoria woman was bitten by a shark on Monday evening.

“Drone and harbor unit surveillance this morning did not observe any shark sightings,” a Parks spokesperson said. “Rockaway Beach opened on time today at 10 a.m. NYC Parks, NYPD and FDNY will continue land, drone and boat surveillance on Rockaway Beach throughout the day and into the evening.”

The interagency effort will continue each day, at least one hour prior to the opening of NYC public beaches for the remaining weeks of the summer swim season. The FDNY and NYPD will utilize drone technology to conduct surveillance around swimming areas to monitor for sharks. If no sharks are spotted in the hour prior to lifeguards going on duty, beaches will open to the public as scheduled. If during the surveillance period, a shark is spotted, the beach will remain closed for at least one hour after the last sighting of shark activity.

While beaches are open to swimming, the Parks Department, FDNY, and NYPD will conduct surveillance from the land, drones, and vessels to ensure the safety of patrons in the water. While swimming is prohibited at New York City beaches after 6:00 pm, out of an abundance of caution, drone surveillance will continue each night until dusk.

The new safety protocols were implemented Aug. 9 after the 65-year-old woman was bitten by a shark while standing in the surf at Beach 59th Street in Arverne. Lifeguards and first responders rushed to help the unconscious woman and stanched the bleeding with a tourniquet. EMS rushed the victim to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where she is listed in stable but serious condition on Aug. 9.

FDNY First Deputy Commissioner Joseph Pheifer, of Middle Village, held a briefing Wednesday morning and explained the new procedures that will be followed each day before 10 a.m..

“The plan is that every morning before the beaches open, we will fly drones and we will have, as you see behind me, our fire boats and police boats scanning the water before opening,” Pfeifer said. “If we spot a shark, they will make a decision to close the beach. We will also keep the drones up in the air and our marine units out on the water during the day while the swimmers are swimming to make sure we don’t see any sharks.

The woman, identified as Ukrainian immigrant Tatyana Koltunyuk, became the first person attacked by a shark in New York City in 65 years, and that incident occurred off Staten Island. NYC Parks First Deputy Commissioner Iris Rodriguez-Rosa said it was the first time she knew of a shark attack along the Rockaway peninsula.

“We’ve never had such an incident happen to us here in the Rockaways,” she said. “We will definitely be able to determine where there are schools of fish, usually the sharks may follow. So we will carefully look at that very closely to make sure we monitor that and our lifeguards will be looking at it carefully with their binoculars and things of that nature.”

Pfeifer added that safety will come first each and every day.

“Our lifeguards are out there every day looking at the water to protect all our beach goers so it is really a combination of inter agencies working together to protect all of us,” he said. “As you see, we do have a fleet of boats out there and a fleet of drones, and that’s good for New York City, that we’re working together and we’re using our technology to protect life.”

Councilwoman Joann Ariola is lauding the city’s new safety protocols.

“The response by the NYPD, FDNY, and Parks Department makes me more confident than ever in our city’s abilities to respond swiftly and appropriately to tragic events like this shark attack,” Ariola said. “Shark attack incidents are on the rise up and down the East Coast, in large part thanks to the tremendous efforts that have been made towards cleaning up our coastal waters. Cleaner waters lead to more marine life, and more marine life inevitably entails more sharks as well. As such, it is important that our city works to ensure the safety of our beachgoers. The deployment of cutting-edge technology like these drones demonstrates the exemplary commitment to public safety by the FDNY, NYPD, and Parks Department, and I applaud this latest decision wholeheartedly.”

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