Jellyfish, stonefish, sharks… these vicious little specimens can make even the brightest day at the beach into a nightmare. Avoid nasty surprises by learning how to identify and deal with some of the top culprits—this helpful list will show you how.
Imagine a fish armed with a sword. That’s the general idea behind the stingray. This flat creature features a long, whip-like tail that has a barb strong enough to puncture seriously tough surfaces. Generally speaking, stingrays like to avoid areas that are heavily populated but because they burrow into the sand, it’s best to be careful if you’re treading into the shallow surf. If stepped on, the barb can permeate your skin and cause a serious reaction. Usually, the poison isn’t lethal but it has been known to cause life-threatening reactions which should be taken very seriously. To avoid stepping on these creatures, don’t walk in shallow water, do the “stingray shuffle”—instead of picking up your feet each step, just move them forward under the sand, and the vibrations should scare the critters away.
They make look like harmless Ziploc bags full of sea water, but get too close and you’ll see why they’re best viewed from a safe distance. Jellyfish are known to sting and leave an itchy, painful rash in their wake. While most jellyfish are of the scyphozoan persuasion (read: not lethal), the box class of jellyfish can be literal killers. Their tentacles contain poison-laden darts that cause their prey’s heart to stop. If you suspect that the beach you’re hitting may be home to box jellyfish, either don’t go in the water, or take the necessary precautions—namely keep avoiding them, even the ones washed up on shore. If you happen to get stung by one of these nearly invisible floaters, be sure to get treatment ASAP.
Despite their cute name, sea urchins can be a real beast. They like hang out in shallow waters and can pack a powerful punch if stepped on. Their spines are sharp and contain poison which can cause painful reactions to humans. They’re not deadly but you do want to be careful because if the spine breaks off under your skin, you’ll need professional help to get it removed or else it will slowly keep working its way into your skin. Ouch.
These camouflage experts are often referred to as the most venomous fish out there, thanks to their sharp dorsal fin spines that become erect when the fish feels threatened. When stung, people are reported to beg to have the affected area amputated, due to the excruciating nature of the pain. Stonefish are hard to avoid since they’re pretty good at blending into their surroundings but reports of stinging incidents are, all things considered, pretty few and far in between. They’re native to coastal areas of the Indo-Pacific ocean as well as some spots in the Caribbean and Florida so be aware before taking a dip. To avoid these well-camouflaged fish, don’t wade with bare feet. And if you do get stung, get the wound in warm water until help arrives, as it reduces the pain.
Okay so this one is pretty obvious but is worth repeating. Sharks can be dangerous. Chances are you’ll go your whole life without ever encountering one during your swim, but it’s best to play it safe and consider a few things. First, avoid splashing in waters known to be home to sharks. That kind of stuff attracts them. If you happen to spot one, don’t provoke it. Just try to swim away as calmly as possible. Pay attention to the behaviour of other marine life. If they begin to act unusually, it could be because there is a shark nearby. A little knowledge goes a long way so be sure to know your surroundings and avoid unnecessary risks.
Microscopic algae aren’t always dangerous but when they are, look out. Harmful algae blooms (HABs) are often brightly coloured and are sometimes referred to as ‘red tides’. They produce toxins that can make humans extremely sick and are present in lakes and oceans throughout the world, making them a pretty serious problem. Reactions can include irritated eyes and nose, stomach problems or more serious neurological reactions. Stay safe by knowing where you’re swimming and checking ahead if you’re worried about the presence of HABs.