May 22, 2019 | Personal Injury
Very few people can resist the allure and pull of beach. The vivid blue inviting water, the warm cloudless skies with a cool breeze, the beautiful warm sand, and much more call to us to come and relax and wash away the cares of the world. As beautiful and welcoming as they may seem, beaches are subject to the unpredictable, wild, and at time dangerous ways of Mother Nature. The beach is home to hazardous plants and animals and situations. While there is no reason to not go to the beach for your next vacation, you do need to know the hidden dangers and what you can do to protect yourself and stay safe while at the beach. Here are 7 common dangers you need to be ready to before your next trip to the beach:
Also known as riptides or undertow, rip currents are the name given for invisible yet extremely powerful channels of water which begin near the shoreline that flow out into the deeper sea. As water from the waves rush onto the shore the water has to flow back to the sea and when the water started flowing in large volumes, this can create a rip current. They’re often difficult to spot, and they are much faster than most people realize- some reaching dizzying, dangerous speeds of as much as eight feet per second. At those speeds it takes mere seconds to be dragged out to water so deep you cannot stand. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rip currents are responsible for more than 80 percent of lifeguard rescues, and it is estimated that as many as 100 people drown each year in America because of rip currents. They are without a doubt the single biggest threat you will face when you go to the beach this summer.
How to Stay Safe: The single most important thing you can do to stay safe when in the water is to never swim alone, and only go into the water along shores that have posted lifeguard supervision. Be especially careful when swimming close to piers and jetties, as riptides often form near these structures. If the worst case scenario happens and you get caught into a rip current don’t panic and don’t try to swim against it. A rip current won’t pull you under but it will drag you deeper and deeper into the ocean. To break free so you can start swimming back to shore without the power of the rip current pulling at you, swim parallel to the coast to escape the current. Then you will need to swim at an angle straight to shore once you are free. Try to alert someone to your situation as you try to swim out of the rip current so a lifeguard can assist you if needed.
Sharks are among the most feared creatures in the sea and most of us have heard stories about sharks attacking people and have seen movies and shows like Jaws that paint sharks as mindless killing machines. To worsen the fear people have about them, shark attacks do seem to be on the rise with more attacks on people happening over the last few years than in the decades previous. Shark attacks becoming more and more common is indeed a scary thought. Still, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, your chances of dying from a shark attack are less than one in three million. You are still more likely to get hit by lighting and statically speaking you are much more likely to die in a car crash than you are in a shark attack. But still, if you are heading into the water, remember you are entering their home so be cautious and know what to do if a shark does decide to attack.
How to Stay Safe: There are numerous tips and tricks out there given by biologists, attack victims, scientists, surfers, and others for avoiding contact with sharks. Here are some the easiest to remember and implement when you are at the beach: Don’t swim between sunrise and sunset, don’t thrash around or horseplay in the water, don’t go too deep into the water, don’t swim with horses or dogs, don’t step foot in the water if you’re bleeding. Also be aware that surfers are often attacked because from the shark’s point of view from below, a surfer on a board looks a lot like a seal or a turtle and that is why almost all human attacks are mistaken identity attacks. If you are attacked by a shark, punching it in the nose or eye does work in most cases and if you can’t reach there, punch whatever part you can reach. Most of the time, once the shark realizes you are not a tasty seal it will let go of you and swim away.
Harmful Algal Blooms
The ocean is filled with tiny plants called algae that many sea creatures feed off of, and like all plants, algae will ‘bloom’ during certain seasons. Widespread blooms of algae, sometimes called red tides, can be extremely dangerous to people and animals. Algae aren’t always harmful but when large colonies of algae form and bloom at the same time they care realize toxins into the water as well as the air since they tend to float when they are in bloom. These toxins can cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, difficulty breathing, eye and throat irritation, and in people who are severely allergic it can even leas to death! According to the NOAA, dangerous algae blooms are becoming more common in waters in the U.S. so you should check for any warnings for the area you are planning to visit to make sure they are experiencing an algae bloom or are not expecting one during your visit.
How to Stay Safe: Although these toxic algae blooms are sometimes referred to as red tides, they’re not always red. You can find algae gathering in huge quantities in the shallower water of the beach that can be black, white, green, blue-green, brown, purple, or red. Even if they are not blooming super large colonies of algae can cause problems due to the sheer amount of waste they are producing. These massive colonies can have the texture of cottage cheese, thick soup, a crust, or a film in the water. If you see this kind of thing, stay out of the sea, and if you believe you’ve been exposed to a massive algae colony, see a healthcare professional, especially if you develop any symptoms. It should also be reported to local beach authorities so others can be warned about the danger and so the colony can be carefully monitored.
No, this is not a joke. It is actually a serious safety hazard most people do not even think about when they get to the beach and pick their spot in the sand. Falling coconuts are a real threat. Most coconuts weight around 10 pounds and some can weigh even more! And they can fall from tree that are up to 100 ft high. So they can cause serious injury and even death to an unlucky beach goer who is under a coconut tree. According to a report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the blow of a tumbling coconut can exceed one metric ton. While there are no definitive statistics for how many people are injured or killed by falling coconuts each year, it is a big enough threat that you should be mindful of where you are when enjoying the sands.
How to Stay Safe: It’s simple really and is basically just a bit of common sense and planning ahead of time. Don’t park your beach towel and back underneath or in close proximity to palm trees. This is especially true on a windy day as strong winds can knock coconuts down quite easily. Stick to the open areas and pay attention to where you are when you are walking around and enjoying the beach and the natural setting.
Unfortunately, beach pollution is quite common. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports there is not a single U.S. state coastline that does not some sort of a polluted beach. Water contaminated by sewage, storm-water pollution, and other hazardous substances can make beachgoers very sick. The water in the water can get into swimmer’s eyes and ears and mouths and lead to health problems. Additionally, bacteria and other nasty things can breed in polluted water and cause even more problems for breach goers who come into contact with the water.
How to Stay Safe: Although U.S. beaches are monitored by health and environmental officials, and you can look up reports to see if there have been reports of excess pollution in your beach, not all popular destination beaches are regularly tested for pollution. This is particularly true for beaches overseas outside of North America. The National Resources Defence Council recommends that swimmers protect themselves and stay alert. Beach goers should avoid water that looks murky, smells bad, has a film on it, and the avoid water and beach areas near piers, pipers, and other outlets that might have contaminated water.
The act of going to the beach has become almost synonymous with getting a sunburn. It is almost expected if you go to the beach, an this is bad because even minor burns can cause significant damage to your skin, and serious burns can be extremely dangerous. The UV rays from the sun can penetrate clouds and reflect off the water and we sand so there are many ways to be exposed to harmful sun rays. The later in the day the worse the sun damage can be until the sun begins to set so be mindful about when you are going out and how long you are going to be in the sun. A bad burn can kill deep layers of skin cells, age your skin, cause painful blisters and can put you at risk for developing skin cancer later on in life!
How to Stay Safe: You have to make sure you are protecting yourself every time you go to the beach, whether you are getting in the water or not. The best way to do this with sunscreen, shade, protective clothing, and more sunscreen. The CDC recommends using a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 and advises that tightly woven fabric protect better than looser knits. Staying hydrated is important so your skin cells stay plump to protect deeper cells. Be careful which sunblock you choose, however. Some SPFs are not reported accurately, causing burns and other injuries.
There are many creatures that share the ocean water with vacationing beachgoers from sharks to fish, to jellyfish. One sea-dwelling creature many people do not think about encountering when they visit tropical beach locations is the stingray. It’s generally safe to swim alongside a sting ray ad they glide through the water so long as you give them room. The real danger comes if you spook a ray and it feels it needs to defend itself. And this makes things tricky and risky because rays often bury themselves in sand in shallow coastal waters. When a beachgoer accidently steps on them the ray gets startled and lashes out with its barbed tail in self-defence, usually hitting the person in the foot, ankle, or leg. Rays’ stings can be extremely painful and in rare occasions, like with famed animal guru Steve Irwin, a jab from a sting rays’ barbed tail can hit a vital organ and lead to death.
How to Stay Safe: The best way to stay safe when walking around in the water in an area that is known to have sting rays is to do what is known as the stingray shuffle. When walking in shallow waters, shift your feet back and forth in shuffling manner. Doing this instead of taking actual steps has been shown to be quite effective at scaring off nearby rays hiding in the sand and you are more likely to nudge them and get them to swim away rather than stepping on them and trapping them where they have to defend themselves.
Beaches will always be a popular vacation destination and they can be fun and memorable places to take a vacation but you need to be aware of the risks and dangers that come with visiting a beach and what you need to do to protect yourself while you are there.
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