A TRAFFIC light system warning visitors when it is safe to cross the causeway to Sully Island was officially launched yesterday, June 18.
The aim of the ground breaking new system, which is the first to be trialled by the RNLI and could be rolled out across the UK if it is deemed successful, is to stop people from being cut off by the tide and stranded on Sully Island for up to 12 hours.
The sign features red, amber and green lights, warning when it is safe to cross, when time is running out and when it is unsafe to cross. There is also a countdown warning of how long is left to cross the causeway and return to the mainland, in a bid to help people unaware of the tide times.
Sully Island, which has the second highest tidal range in the world, has been described as a “hotspot’ for call-outs for the RNLI and was identified as the “perfect place” for the sign to be trialled.
In the same week that it was announced the warning system would be trialled Penarth RNLI were called out to rescue a man that had become stranded on Sully Island on Monday, June 16.
The man had been climbing cliffs on the south of the island and was brought back to the shore by Penarth RNLI and taken into the care of Penarth Coastguard.
In 2013 the RNLI as a whole responded to 428 incidents of people being cut off by the tide and saved 109 lives. In Wales, there were 112 launches to people cut off, eight lives saved and 139 people rescued.
Sully Island is a popular place to walk and families regularly find themselves trapped and in need of RNLI assistance. The speed of the incoming tide can make crossing from the mainland to Sully Island dangerous and potentially life threatening.
The Sully Island causeway is only uncovered for three hours either side of low tide, and it takes around 40 minutes to walk across the causeway and back, with hundreds of people caught out by the tides over the years.
RNLI Community Incident Reduction Manager Nicola Davies, who is behind the project, said that they had been looking at ways to reduce the number of incidents at Sully Island for the last 15 years and they were “massively excited” by the new system.
“The tides around the island move very quickly so RNLI urge people visiting the island to check the tide times before they set out, and never ever be tempted to cross the causeway or swim across to the shore when the tide is coming in. By observing the sign, visitors don’t have to second guess how much time they have, and know exactly when it is safe to cross. We will be monitoring the impact this sign has throughout the season.”
She added that since March Penarth RNLI had had seven call-outs and rescued 20 people from Sully Island.
Penarth Lifeboat operations manager Andrew Rabaiotti said that they hoped the system would reduce the number of launches and the risk to people’s lives.
“We welcome the installation of this system. Penarth RNLI lifeboat launches frequently to rescue people cut off by the tide on the island. We hope that this new system will go some way towards reducing the number of these launches and, more importantly, will reduce the risk to people's lives."
Paul Gallone, station officer of Penarth Coastguard, added that it would give people that are not from the area an idea about how quickly the causeway closes off.
He said that a “considerable amount” of their work was rescuing people that had become stuck on Sully Island as they were unfamiliar with the tides, with a “significant number” of those in the summer months.
“The signs that are there at the moment haven’t been sufficient on the island, so hopefully this will reduce the significant number of call-outs,” he said.
“It’s a fantastic piece of kit and we are optimistic that it will cut down on our work.”
The sign was developed with tide gauge experts Karlan Digital Ltd and is being supported by a local community partnership with Gordon Hadfield the owner of the local caravan park and Seashore Grill and Café.
The sign, which will now begin a two-week testing phase, will be trialled over the summer and evaluated in October.