'Overcrowded death trap': appeal to Insta-obsessed visitors of Figure 8 Pools

Visitors seek the perfect social media picture at the Figure Eight Pools. Picture: Wolter Peeters
Visitors seek the perfect social media picture at the Figure Eight Pools. Picture: Wolter Peeters

The suspected drowning of a Nepalese student who was swept off the rock platform at the popular Figure Eight Pools has renewed calls for those seeking the perfect Instagram post to listen to safety warnings.

A 22-year-old man disappeared into the water at the notorious Royal National Park attraction, north of Wollongong, on Monday and hasn't been seen since. The rescue efforts were scaled back on Thursday.

One of the man's friends was also swept into the water but managed to climb to safety on a rock shelf.

At the time, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service's wave risk at the pools was listed as 'extreme'.

Coastal geomorphologist Professor Rob Brander said social media had opened the floodgate to droves of tourists making the difficult and gruelling trek through the Royal National Park to the pools.

"It's turned into an overcrowded death trap," he said.

"National Parks has [an] excellent resource predicting condition [at the pools] four days in advance. But how do you get this info to the average backpacker who is just trying to re-create an Instagram photo?"

The coastal beach safety researcher said he was not an expert in the Figure Eight Pools but used to visit the site "in the old days". He said only residents knew where to find the "secret location" and knew to go at low tide.

"People would never go when there were big waves or when it was high tide because it was too risky," the University of NSW professor said.

"Now people have no idea of the risks. The level of ignorance is massive.

"The urge to get an Instagram photo is like leading lambs to the slaughter. Tourists are been exposed to hazardous high tides and huge ocean waves."

Insta-obessed: Tourists pose for photographs at the Figure 8 Pools in the Royal National Park. Picture: Wolters Peeters

Insta-obessed: Tourists pose for photographs at the Figure 8 Pools in the Royal National Park. Picture: Wolters Peeters

Prof Brander said it was "frustrating and sad" when people got injured or killed because it was preventable. 

"Rescuers and friends are also being placed in dangerous positions when people ignore the safety warnings," he said.

Prof Brander said one way to reduce the risky behaviour was to close off the site but he does not believe that will stop those determined to get a photo for social media.

"There is educational material and signage that tells people of the risks but they ignore it or there is a language or cultural barrier," he said. "We can only do so much.

"Our natural environment should be promoted to get tourists to come to NSW and Australia and our environment should be opened up.

"The tourism industry has a tough challenge in trying to promote and encourage people to use our natural environment in a safe way."

A Destination NSW spokeswoman said the tourism agency no longer promoted the Figure Eight Pools on its websites or in campaigns because of recent injuries at the locations.

"The Figure Eight Pools have featured in the past in Destination NSW content and campaigns," she said.

"Due to the widespread use of social media and the popularity of the destination it has been heavily promoted by the general public.

"There are no current plans to promote Figure Eight Pools by the state government's tourism and major events agency."

SEARCH: Surf Life Saving Illawarra crews return from a search at Figure Eight Pools on Monday. A missing 22-year-old has not yet been found. Picture: Surf Life Saving Illawarra

SEARCH: Surf Life Saving Illawarra crews return from a search at Figure Eight Pools on Monday. A missing 22-year-old has not yet been found. Picture: Surf Life Saving Illawarra

National Parks and Wildlife Service has a warning system on its website that predicts wave conditions in advance and warns visitors when it is too hazardous to visit the location.

"It is a great educational resources but how do we get people to use it?" Prof Brander said. "The resource is one of the best of its kind I have seen."

An Office of Environment and Heritage spokeswoman said the pools were not on land reserved as national park but because the location was accessed through the Royal National Park, NPWS had worked tirelessly with other emergency services to improve visitor safety.

"Restricting access would be extremely difficult and could potentially cause more accidents as people intent on visiting the site may venture off designated pathways to reach the pools, making a visit even more hazardous," she said.

"For this reason, NPWS along with NSW Surf Lifesaving and other emergency services have focused on increasing awareness of the risks via signage and online through the Wave Risk Rating tool.

"NPWS urges park visitors to check the Wave Risk Rating tool before planning a trip to Figure Eight Pools.

"Warning and safety signage appear at the start, end and middle of the three kilometre walking track which leads to Figure Eight Pools."

Mr Brander said he would not return to the pools not only because of the risk and the number of people, but also because of the amount of rubbish left behind and the pools' crystal clear water had become murky.

"We are loving our environment to death," he said.