The beach really is one of the most beautiful things on Earth! However, within its shores hides an incredibly diverse array of creatures which you wouldn’t want to cross in the wrong circumstances. They can seriously harm unsuspecting humans. It’s not just living creatures that pose a risk at the beach though, but the forces of the sea itself. Keep reading, to find out 10 facts to help you spot potential beach dangers that could one day save your life.
10) Tsunami Warning Signs
Tsunamis have been one of the most feared beach events since the infamous boxing day tsunami of 2004. That one killed an astounding number of people, with a final death toll of more than 250,000.
Fortunately, tsunami warning systems have now improved. However, many parts of the world still aren’t equipped. And depending on the type of wave and where it originates, tsunamis can still strike without warning. During the boxing day tsunami, there were many anecdotal reports of people realising early warning signs, therefore leading people to high-ground. So being vigilant of these indications could save your life and the life of others. Firstly, if you feel the obvious effects of an earthquake on land then don’t wait around on the beach, head to high ground. Secondly, if you see any strange change in the tide, either rapid rise or fall, then this could indicate an event out at sea.
Finally, if you hear a loud roar from the ocean then this could mean a tsunami is already on its way. People report that tsunamis sound like freight trains or planes coming ever closer. Very ominous.
9) Coral, Urchins, Anemones and Sea Ferns
Some of the sea’s strangest constructs are the insane populations of colourful corals, urchins, ferns and anemones which line coastlines and reefs worldwide.
It’s widely known that these creatures can pack stings and touching them without training is certainly not advised. Divers still quite regularly brush past these beach dangers, though. Or you might brush up on one when walking through shallow beach waters. Amongst the thousands of stinging coral, ferns, urchins and anemones found worldwide, sea ferns have some of the most painful stings.
Allergic reactions aren’t uncommon, leading to anaphylactic shock and possibly even death. A closely related organism, the fire coral, is aptly named for the burning rash that develops upon contact. They can be distinguished by their bright yellow-green and brown skeletal covering.
They grow in several forms, like branching, plate and encrusting corals. They’re not so easy to spot, as divers often mistake them for seaweed and accidentally touch them. One you can spot though, and is far more deadly is the Flower urchin. It’s found in the Indo-West Pacific and is rather small, at around 15 centimetres in diameter.
Being stung by one of these will result in intense radiating pain, numbness, respiratory distress, and muscular paralysis all of which can last anything up to 6 hours. Higher doses can result in convulsions or even death. So just stay away from most corals unless you know exactly what your dealing with.
8) Shorebreaks & Rip Currents
Rip currents don’t happen everywhere. However, some beaches do suffer from these life-threatening sea events. Vigilance will prevent you from ever getting caught up in one of these scary episodes.
A rip current is a strong jet of water which drags people out to sea at alarming speeds. Sometimes as fast as 10 ft per second, far faster than even Olympic swimmers can swim.
Rip currents form because water from breaking waves on a beach needs to find a way back out to sea, so they flow into deeper channels and away from the shore. Usually, this happens when there’s a hole in the sand bar. That allows a channel of fast flowing water to flow back out to sea. Approximately a hundred people a year drown in rip currents in America alone – far more than those killed by hurricanes, tornadoes or hurricanes in a single year – so learning these tips may save your life.
The easiest way to spot them is to look for a classic mushroom shape and murky appearance where foam, seaweed or discoloured water is being pulled off-shore, although this is rarely seen in nature.
The most evident sign is calm gaps where waves aren’t breaking or deeper, dark coloured water.
They may look like the safest areas, but they are in fact the riskiest places to swim. They indicate that the water in between waves is being dragged back out to sea. But, be aware that rip currents can flow in multiple directions, not just directly out to sea. They may not even show all or any of these signs. If you get caught in one, swim along the shore, with the long-shore current or just float and swim diagonally back to the beach. Never swim directly towards the beach if you get caught in one. That is the worst thing you can do.
A shorebreak is a similar beach event that occurs when a wave crashes directly onto the shore. Usually, waves break smoothly on the shore. But in a shorebreak, they really crash down hard on the shore.
This happens after a rapid transition from deep to shallow water. Large or small waves crashing down on people in this manner can cause injuries to the spine. So stay out of waters that show these signs. It’s easier to see these formations from higher up, so always spend time checking the water before you go in.
7) Bristle Worm
Bristle worms are the stuff of deep-sea nightmares. There are over 10,000 species of bristle worms. They often reside amongst rocks in shallow waters. They look nasty, like a sea centipede of sorts.
They’re most often small in size but some grow to over 1 foot in length. And the way they travel through the water sends a shiver down the spine of the most experienced divers. Bristle worms aren’t furry and nice at all. Instead, their bristles are sharp and penetrative, able to pierce skin easily to cause intense irritation.
Fortunately, most bristle worm stings are just a minor annoyance. But if you really stepped on one then it’d be a bit more than that. The bristles would have to be removed by hand like sea urchin spines and I really can’t imagine that’d be a pleasant experience given the sensitivity of the sole of your foot.
Departing from sea creatures, we now have a beach danger which can hurt you at the beach and you simply cannot see it coming. For reasons not entirely understood, the sea and the sand can host a variety of rare and complex bacteria.
Amongst these is the superbug MRSA. There have been many anecdotal reports of people contracting MRSA following potential exposure at beaches. But now, scientific studies have confirmed that MRSA genuinely does lurk in the sand. Fortunately, whilst the chance is extraordinarily low, it’s even lower if you shower after going to the beach and avoid the beach with open wounds.
Potentially more sinister than that though, the beach has the ability to harbour some truly exotic bugs, like ghastly forms of flesh-eating bacteria. There are a few reports of flesh-eating bacterial like Vibrio vulnificus infecting people through open wounds as this bacteria can survive in beach water. A man in Maryland was killed in a few days after contracting an infection of this type from ocean water near his home. Normally present in warm coastal waters and lakes from May to October, infection via this flesh-eating bacteria is fortunately limited to just a handful of cases each year.
Stonefish is one of the most well-known beach-horrors in this article. Another highly complex and extraordinarily adaptive creature, the stonefish is the sea’s most venomous fish.
If you thought the world’s most venomous fish is confined to the sea, though, then think again. This fish can survive out of the water for 24 hours, which is highly unusual. Its camouflage is excellent – it really does look like a stone. That is why a number of unfortunate individuals step on these fish each year, receiving a brutal sting from one or more of its 13 barbs.
This fish is actually represented in a dance performed by aborigines in Australia due to its awesome ability to strike down unfortunate humans. The dancer illustrates intense agony before falling down limp on the ground. Fortunately, stings only to the stomach or chest usually are the most serious. And because it’s usually your foot that meets the stonefish’s barbs, this fish isn’t likely to kill humans. It is still extremely excruciating though!
4) Marbled Cone Snail
This funnily dangerous snail is such a strange host of some of the world’s deadliest venom.
You’ll find these snail shells in souvenir shops as they’re beautifully marbled with fantastic patterns – it’s no wonder that some naive individuals have met an unfortunate demise when handling them incorrectly when alive. One drop of this snail’s venom is enough to kill 20 humans. The mechanism by which it delivers its payload is quite remarkable. It uses a harpoon, which is essentially a loaded hypodermic needle that can be fired at prey passing by.
This snail is an expert fisherman. Its harpoon can be up to 5 feet long when the snail itself is only 5 inches long at the most. If that wasn’t amazing enough then hear this – the venom is so complex that you can’t relieve its effects with antivenom. The cone snail can produce hundreds of different toxins and delivers them as a multi-toxin cocktail. It prevents communication in the nerves which paralyses its victim so the snail can then devour its lifeless body. Around 30 known human deaths have been attributed to this snail. In a battle between land snails and sea snails, we know who would prevail with these harpoon firing sea tanks on their side!
3) Jellyfish and the Portuguese Man o’ War
Although they aren’t actually jellyfish, The Portuguese Man of War is a real tyrant.
Some have been known to grow to 50 metres below the seas. They’re not all this huge but most of them pack an extremely painful sting that kills fish with ease. They can seriously injure humans and fatalities aren’t all too uncommon – there is a reason why this strange creature has been dubbed the ‘floating terror’. They wash up on many beaches worldwide and whilst they’re big enough to avoid, their tentacles can sometimes detach and they’re not so easy to spot.
However, amongst the array of strange jellyfish that inhabit beaches and shorelines worldwide, there is one that is more infamous than all: the Box Jellyfish.
In fact, it’s one of nature’s deadliest stinging creatures. It is responsible for hundreds of deaths each year. The long list of damage that can ensue from one of their strings is a bit harrowing to read as the toxins attack the nervous system, the skin and the heart. Many people go into shock and actually die before reaching the shore. One curiously dangerous jellyfish is the Irukandji Jellyfish, which is tiny at just 2.5 cm across and rather beautiful too.
These rival the box jellyfish in toxicity. But the onset of symptoms is often slower than a box jellyfish, making it harder to identify and treat. Thankfully, deaths attributed to these beach dangers are rare at just a few in the last 100 years!
So obviously, stay as far away as you can from jellyfish populated waters in general. Beaches at particularly high risk are often littered with warning signs. Finally, if there are strong winds, they’re likely to be near the shore, so avoid the water in this case.
2) Harmful Algal Blooms & Polluted Waters
We know that the sea isn’t always an azure shade of blue but we don’t expect it to be red either. That’s what happens when algae accumulate at the shore, blooming rapidly.
Algae and plankton are found in small quantities on many beaches. Usually, it poses absolutely no problems but too much of it can cause harm to marine life and humans. Algae blooms occur when plankton gets a large dose of nutrients combined with favourable wind and water currents. Generally, they aren’t an issue but on occasion, serious health effects have been observed due to exposure to algae at beaches. Algae isn’t the only form of pollution that you may experience at the beach though as more often now than ever, beaches are being closed due to high concentrations of bacteria and toxic substances arising from industrial pollution, septic waste and sewage.
Of course, that sounds disgusting. It is, but it’s highly unlikely that beaches frequently used by tourists or locals suffer from these conditions.
These aren’t really fish at all, they’re actually molluscs encased in a sharp shell which really does resemble that of a cut-throat razor.
These extraordinary animals take up residence amongst beaches around the UK and Ireland, where they’re particularly prominent. Finally, a beach danger that Brits can moan about! Razorfish isn’t dangerous in their own right and they’re usually submerged in relatively deep burrows when the tide is out but sometimes they rise to the surface if the water heats up.
Normally, you’d be unlucky to step on one of these, but at times, literally thousands rise from their burrow to claim human victims! This happened in the British coastal town of Torbay, where Razorfish was responsible for lacerations to the feet of 800 people on one bloody Sunday! These weren’t all minor flesh wounds, either, people were literally flooding out of the sea with cuts inches deep. Sounds nasty and it was a grim scene in the local hospital which was all hands on deck to keep this mollusc invasion under control!
Have you ever encountered any of the beach dangers mentioned in this article? And do you know of any others I should have mentioned? Do let me know in the comments section down below. Thanks for reading!