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Dead in the Water: Dangers at the Beach

By Martha Michael

When heading out to the beach this summer you’re probably not thinking about what could bite, sting, infect or strike you. You can definitely go overboard worrying about every possible danger, but the risks of getting hurt by a trip to the ocean do exist.


We’ve all heard the warnings, and it could happen to anyone. If you step on a jellyfish, you could easily get stung. According to the National Ocean Service, or NOS, all 2,000 species of jellyfish sting, though not all can cause injury to you. Approximately 70 species have venom that can hurt or, in a small number of cases, kill you.

If you see one washed ashore, avoid it like the plague – even a single tentacle, torn from its body, can sting you. Whatever you do, don’t try to rinse it off, because it can stimulate the release of more venom. If you get stung, see the lifeguard for treatment. If you show signs of allergy to the sting, see your doctor, pronto!

Shark Bites

There are plenty of incidents in the news, but shark bites are rare. Only about 12 species of shark have ever attacked a human. You’re more likely to be electrocuted by your Christmas tree lights than attacked by a shark, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sometimes sharks attack because they’re trapped in a low tide, or if humans are swimming in an area where they typically find their prey, says the NOS. The agency advises swimmers to stay close to shore and swim with others. Also, don’t swim at night, or even at twilight. And leave your jewelry at home – sharks are attracted to the reflection and they even like colorful bathing suits.

Harmful Algal Blooms

Called red tides or HABs, a collection of blooming algae are sometimes toxic to humans, as well as marine life. We all know that ingesting contaminated fish will make us sick, but you can also suffer from swimming in water with toxins. You can even die from it. Luckily, it’s possible for scientists to anticipate the timing of blooms, so you can get information from public health officials to avoid contact, if they haven’t closed the beach area.


We like to compare being struck by lightning to other odds, such as winning the lottery. But about 33 individuals per year are actually killed from lightning, the NOS says.

“There is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area,” says the site. “When thunder roars, go indoors!”  

The NOS site recommends the following shelters during a lightning storm:

  • Sturdy buildings
  • Vehicles with hard tops

And the site suggests you do not secure yourself in:

  • Rain shelters
  • Small sheds
  • Open vehicles

When can you hit the water afterwards? They recommend waiting a half hour after the last crack of lightning to go back into the ocean.

The fact is, there’s a certain amount of risk to anything you do, even walking across the street. And no amount of running, skipping or hiding can eliminate that. So take your chances, wherever you go – because the world is your oyster.

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