Australia’s finest beaches closed

Swimming has been virtually banned as a safety measure on some of Australia's finest beaches, with big fines for people daring to swim outside tiny patrolled areas, a Sydney council warned Tuesday. The beaches, which are among Australia's biggest tourist drawcards, stretch in many cases for miles, but swimming is to be permitted only in areas sometimes 100 metres (yards) wide or less, bounded by flags, patrolled by surf lifesavers and packed with people. The move follows a number of drownings and thousands of rescues last year. Encouragement to swim "between the flags" is a well-established Australian tradition, respected by many beachgoers, particularly families and visitors unaccustomed to Sydney's strong rips and tides. But for those not prepared to be herded between the flags and caught swimming outside, beach lifeguards from February 26 will be able to impose on-the-spot fines of 220 dollars (120 US), Warringah Council mayor Peter Moxham said Tuesday. The beaches include Freshwater, Collaroy, Narrabeen and North Narrabeen, often used for world championship surfing events. The move is opposed by tens of thousands of beachgoers who see it as a threat to Australia's free and easy beach culture, AFP reports.