Friday, March 7, 2014

Beach Safety

Living on the coast in Gulf Shores, Alabama, has made us more aware of beach safety and all of the things that can complicate a beach trip. Some are relatively minor. Others can mess up not only your vacation, but possibly the rest of your life.

Jet skis are a relatively new beach safety hazard. They are certainly a lot of fun, but unfortunately they can be dangerous and not just to the riders. Many jet skiers get so caught up in the fun that they don't pay enough attention to their surroundings. Pay more attention to them than they are paying to you and watch your children.

While usually not a major beach safety hazard, jellyfish stings can cause a lot of havoc at the beach. The occasional jellyfish at the beach is not unusual and not a reason to avoid the water. A few unlucky swimmers get stung. But there are times when everybody who gets in the water gets stung numerous times. Temperatures, salinity and good feeding are just a few variables that can affect the jellyfish population in a given area.

There are different types of jellyfish, some more dangerous than others. It would be a good idea to research treating jellyfish stings before a beach trip, especially if you have children. There are inexpensive products on the market that soothe jellyfish stings.

Riptides cause many drownings every year. It is probably the greatest danger at the beach. A riptide is a small channel that pushes water out to sea. People drown while trying to fight a riptide. If caught in one, swim parallel to shore until you are past the current and then swim toward the shore. Many public beach areas have flags to indicate swimming conditions. Red flag means stay out of the water, not be careful in the water.

Red Tide is a naturally occurring, higher than normal concentration of microscopic algae. The causes of red tide are not completely known, but it is thought by some experts to be caused by high temperatures combined with a lack of wind and rainfall.

I have read where red tide can be isolated and patchy, not affecting all areas of a beach, but from what I have personally seen at Gulf Shores I wouldn't have been able to avoid it by moving my beach chair a half mile. Symptoms are irritation of the eyes and throat. Obviously, if one suffers from asthma or other respiratory conditions this isn't a good thing, but otherwise healthy people will probably just be uncomfortable.

Sand holes and cave-ins are something that can turn a pleasant day at the beach into a nightmare real fast. Sand is easy to dig, so children sometimes dig deep holes quickly. Children do die from this. A vibration or drying sand can cause a cave-in. It only takes seconds under the sand to cause death.

Sunburn is very avoidable, but millions of people still get sunburned. At the very least, it can make the rest of your beach visit less comfortable. A beach umbrella makes a lot of sense if you plan on staying throughout the day. Beach tents are becoming popular, especially for children. They are fairly cheap and can be bought at the beach and thrown in a dumpster or given away at the end of your trip.

Puncture wounds are something to watch out for. Not very many people are going to do it, but it is best to wear some sort of footwear in the sand unless it is firmly packed sand near the water. Even on the packed sand, watch out for dead fish and sharp debris, especially after tropical storms and hurricanes.

Stingrays are non-aggressive creatures, but they can give you a dangerous puncture wound if you step on them.  Stingrays will not come after you and in fact will swim away from you if given the opportunity. When wading in the water, it is a good idea to drag your foot across the sand occasionally. The sound and vibrations will warn them that are getting closer.

The greatest fear of most beach tourists is a shark attack. The fear of sharks goes beyond beach safety. People have nightmares about them in Kansas. Certainly take precautions. Don't swim in schools of fish, especially in murky water. Take your flashy jewelry off before entering the water. Don't swim near bloody dead fish. Think twice about swimming between dusk and just after dawn.

But  shark attacks are rare. Deaths from shark attacks are extremely rare. In fact only 10 people in the entire world die each year from shark attacks. To put that in perspective, 150 people die in the world each year from falling coconuts. True.

The family should sit down and discuss beach safety before leaving home. Kids are not going to listen as well after they arrive at the beach. They are usually too excited to even sit still. Upon arrival, it is a good idea to briefly go back over what you discussed at home, as the situation dictates.

Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Alabama

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