10 of the Worst Beach Bummers
Some are tiny, some are ginormous. Some are beautiful, some just disgusting. All of them will make your Saturday at the beach as miserable as Monday morning at the office. Here's what to watch for and what to do if they get you.
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Around 1,500 people are injured by stingrays each year in U.S. waters. Most of the injuries happen when waders step on the flatfish laying on the sandy bottom. The startled fish shoots a serrated enom-injected barb from its tail. It's an extremely painful sting, but fatalities are rare.
Look Out: When you're wading in the water, do the stingray shuffle. Slide your feet along the sand instead of taking steps. You'll create vibrations that will scare away stingrays. If you're stung, go to a doctor immediately. Don't try to remove the barb yourself.
Oh, the jellies. The oceans are full of hundreds of varieties, ranging from specks of goo a few millimeters across to tentacled creatures 100 feet long. Each year, around 150 million people are stung. Few are fatal, but all of them hurt.
Look Out: If you see one in the water, stay away. If you see one on the beach, don't pick it up. If you're stung, rinse the area with seawater. Jellyfish leave spines in your skin when they sting; use tweezers to get them out. And don't urinate on the sting. That Friends episode was wrong. Human pee can make it worse.
Catfish are more dangerous than they look when filleted, fried and on a plate next to hushpuppies. The bony spines on their back and sides can stab you and inject venom, causing pain, swelling and sometimes infections. And the smaller the fish, the sharper the spine.
Look Out: Most injuries happen when you're taking one off a fishing hook. You can step on a dead one washed up on the beach, too. If you're stabbed, wash with hot water to ease the ouch. If a portion of the spine has broken off into your skin, see a doctor to remove it.
Falling coconuts kill almost four times as many beachgoers every year as sharks do, but sharks get all the press. That's because while shark attacks are rare, they're always serious. As if we have to tell you that.
Look Out: If you see a shark, stay calm and get out of the water. Scream and flail and you look like a wounded fish, a tasty treat for a shark. Don't wear shiny jewelry when you swim and don't get into the water if you're bleeding. And don't swim at dusk or dawn because that's when sharks feed. Remember the moonlit swim in the opening scene in Jaws?
Sea urchins live in shallow water along the shore and on reefs. They have long spines that puncture the skin and inject venom. They're sedentary creatures that don't attack. Most injuries happen when waders step on them or swimmers and divers brush against them. Stings are painful but never fatal.
Look Out: Sea urchins love to bury themselves in the sand, so watch where you step when wading. If you're stung, pull out large spines with tweezers. Clean the wound with soap and water. Soak the sting area in hot water with Epsom salt to dissolve any remaining small spines.
This cousin to jellyfish isn't a coral at all but lives alongside it in reefs off the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean. Fire coral has sharp-edged branches that cut the skin and tiny tentacles that shoot venom into the wound. Its sting feels like one from a jellyfish.
Look Out: Fire coral attaches itself to a reef and never moves, so it won't attack you. Injuries happen when divers and snorkelers brush against it. If you're scraped, rinse the cut with seawater, remove tentacles with tweezers and put hydrocortisone cream on the injury as needed for itching. Some people are sensitive to coral venom and need medical care.
Yes, the dreaded vibrio vulnificus, more commonly and colorfully known as flesh-eating bacteria, lives in warm coastal waters. The CDC says it kills around 100 people every year. Most get vibrio from eating raw or undercooked seafood, but it can also infect an open wound exposed to saltwater.
Look Out: Don't swim if you have a weakened immune system, a scrape, big bite or cut. Take a shower when you leave the beach. Check beach water quality reports. And don't eat wild-caught oysters in the summer, peak flesh-eating bacteria season.
Sand flies are the winged bloodsuckers of the beach. They bite you, eat your blood and leave itchy, angry welts on your skin. They're one-third the size of mosquitoes, but their bite is more painful. They feed at dawn and dusk, attacking in small swarms and leaving you wondering why you bothered to leave the condo.
Look Out: Wear insect repellant on all exposed skin or keep your skin covered. If bitten, wash the area and apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone to ease the itching. Wind keeps them from flying and biting, so consider skipping your morning beach walks on still days.
It's only eight inches long, but the blue-ringed octopus packs venom so toxic its bite causes paralysis and respiratory failure in 10 minutes. Fewer than one dozen people are bitten every year, and only four people have died in the last century. They only live in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Japan, so don't cancel your Florida trip out of blue-ringed octopus fear.
Look Out: They're shy creatures that won't attack you. Most injuries happen when waders step on them in shallow water. Doing the stingray shuffle will scare them off. If you're bitten, call 911.
Once found only in the South Pacific and aquariums, this invasive species is now in the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic and Caribbean. They have long spines on their fins that puncture the skin and inject venom. Most injuries occur when divers brush against them or when fishermen remove them from a hook. Hapless waders step on dead lionfish, too. Stings are painful and can cause swelling, rashes and bleeding.
Look Out: Wear protective clothing if you're snorkeling or diving in an area where lionfish are known to be. Wear shoes when walking on the beach or wading. If you're stung, wash the area with soap and water. Remove the spines with tweezers and stop any bleeding.