The words “a day at the beach” bring images of white, warm sand between our toes, the sound of waves rolling in as seagulls chirp in the sky, fruity drinks with umbrellas, sun and much needed rest and relaxation. When people say, “It’s no day at the beach”, they generally mean “No fun!”
Oceans, and many beaches, can be dangerous. Rogue waves, undertows, and rip currents steal lives. Keep your head in the game if you choose to play in coastal waters amongst warm white sands and sea breezes,and hone up on beach safety. Here are three potential dangers to avoid.
Danger 1: Flesh eating bacteria in troubled waters
There’s nothing quite as unique as the smell of salt air near the ocean, or seaweed along the coast baking in warm sun. If the smells are off, the aroma may be due to dangerous contamination. Swimmers beware.
The most infamous case was during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Guanabara Bay cooked up a noxious bay of pathogens. The beach is notorious for raw sewage from rainy season overflow, plus industrial wastewater and urban runoff. Microorganisms caused a number of nasty effects on swimmers. Several U.S. athletes fell ill while training in Rio de Janeiro.
In June, 2016, flesh eating bacteria, vibrio, infested Texas beaches. Vibrio infections can cause death. Symptoms include fever, chills, localized redness or swelling of the affected area, including excruciating pain. Because bacteria generally enter through a cut or scrape in the skin, it’s important to shower well and clean cuts, applying antibacterial ointment promptly. See a doctor immediately if any symptoms appear.
To avoid infection, don’t go into low standing water. If you see small pools of ocean water, it most likely has been sitting for a long time in the hot sun. Bacteria are likely incubating there. Check beach health reports. If you’re not sure how well monitored the beaches are at your destination, use these rules of thumb from the Environmental Protection Agency:
- Look for signage – there may be a contamination warning
- Avoid swimming in heavy rain
- Don’t swim if there are storm drains nearby
- Look for trash and other kinds of pollution in the water
- When in doubt, stay out – water can look clean and still be contaminated.
Danger 2: Tropical storms
Maritime weather can be dangerous. Do some research on monsoon, typhoon, and hurricane seasons. The United States Department of State sends out warnings about these tropical storms to keep travelers safe. The Central Weather Bureau can keep you up to date.
- Hurricanes: Huge tropical storms originating in the Atlantic Basin. Keep an eye on tropical storms worldwide with the National Hurricane Center’s website.
- Monsoons: Prevailing winds in South and Southeast Asia, associated with rainy seasons. Monitor monsoons worldwide with the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.
- Typhoons: Tropical storms originating in the Northwestern Pacific Basin. Monitor typhoon activity on Weather.com.
- Tsunami: A series of waves generated by volcanic or seismic activity. Keep track of these dangerous waves on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tsunami webpage.
- Rip currents: Fast-moving water can pull swimmers out to sea. Avoid beaches without a designated swimming area and a lifeguard on duty – rip currents are responsible for swimming deaths every year.
- Lightning storms: Lightning in large bodies of water is never a good thing if you’re a swimmer. Avoid the beach if there’s a storm in the forecast.
Danger 3: Mind nature’s inhabitants
Remember – when you go to the beach, you share it with the local wildlife. It’s their turf, you are a stranger there. Depending on where you are, you can encounter sharks, jellyfish, cone snails, even monster-sized crocodiles who can stay beneath the surface for thirty minutes, and other potentially dangerous critters.
Know local wildlife hazards before you step on the beach. Be observant when and where you swim. Try to stick to beaches where there are lifeguards on duty. Take a friend with you when you go out into the ocean. Use life jackets and floatation devices. There is safety in numbers, but many people do not understand drowning is a quiet death. Keep your eyes on your buddy.
NOTES: Think before you drink and lather up with sunscreen
Alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation at the beach for a number of reasons:
- Your judgement and motor skills: Among drowning-related injuries in people age 15 and older, almost 22 percent are alcohol related.
- Your hydration level: Alcohol dehydrates you. If you’re not also drinking plenty of water, you could be at greater risk for overexposure and sunstroke.
The biggest mistakes when it comes to the use of sunscreen is not using any and using an expired sunscreen from last year. Sunscreen should be applied thirty minutes before venturing outside, and then every two hours or so for maximum shield. Nothing prevents the sun from burning like protective clothing or shade. Use it even when the sky is overcast.
Stay safe. Have fun. Please make a gift to keep Depart Smart going with life-saving tools and information.