Are The Beaches Safe In Miami And What To Watch Out For

When we visit the beach with our families and friends, we are all expecting to have a great time. The last thing we want to have happen is an injury or someone getting bitten or stung. Still, the beaches are a habitat for wild animals and nature cannot be taken for granted.

Many visitors to Miami and South Florida come from areas that are far from the ocean and are often not familiar with the possible dangers they may encounter. There are some obvious ones everyone knows about like sharks, but luckily shark attacks are rare. In 2020, there were 13 unprovoked shark attacks in Florida and no fatalities.

However, a few other dangers are not as obvious and aren't taken as seriously by everyone. People go to Florida beaches every year and most of the time they leave with nothing but great memories. To keep it that way, we need to know about some of the possible dangers to watch out for.

 

While beaches are mostly safe, visitors can encounter jellyfish, sea urchins, crabs, sharks, algae blooms, and harmful bacteria. Aside from the animals there is lightning, sunburns, falling coconuts, dehydration, and rip currents. With millions of beachgoers, most dangers are still pretty rare.

Injuries, bites, stings, and other nasty things do happen. So be aware of the dangers. Learn how to avoid them as much as possible. Wildlife is just that . . . wild! Animals are unpredictable. They bite when they are hungry. They bite when they are scared. They really don't care about your selfie. So let's take a look at a few of our occasional and less popular encounters at the beaches. 

 

Portuguese Man-O-War
©Picture Works Inc / Roldan Torres-Moure - Miami

Jellyfish

Many species are not dangerous but some can be very painful or even deadly. They are sometimes quite hard to see and even when you do spot them at a distance they can still sting you. Their tentacles can reach 50 feet or more. Even after they wash up they can sting you. It is best not to go near them if you see them scattered around the seashore. 

In fact, spotting them along the shore is an indication that you shouldn't go in the water. Keep an eye on the lifeguard stand warning flags. Purple warning flags indicate dangerous sea life in the waters. Check out our post on Jellyfish Season in Miami & What To Do If You Are Stung for more information.

Crabs

Yes, they were funny in Finding Nemo, but much less so when they are pinching your skin and won't let go. Even harsh language won't help! Sometimes simply placing your hand back on the ground or in the water will give them a chance to scurry away. It is recommended by some that you shuffle your feet in the water instead of taking steps so you won't step on them. I have done that on occasion and ended up running into buried rocks. 

Some crabs hide in burrows on land. They are often right at the entrance until they see someone coming. Kids often poke around trying to get the crabs to come out. Avoid bothering crabs in their borrows and don't park a beach towel next to burrows.  

Most importantly, if you happened to get pinched and it breaks the skin, avoid going back in the water. There are bacteria in beach water that can enter through cuts and cause infection. Always, rinse the wound with soap and water. Apply an antibacterial solution. Keep an eye on any cut after you leave the beach for signs of infection. If you develop a skin rash, itching, swelling, or a fever contact your doctor right away. Any signs of a possible allergic reaction should also involve a doctor immediately.  

Never take cuts from a crab pinch, fishing hook, stepping on a sharp shell, or even fish spines lightly. Waterborne bacteria can be very dangerous if it enters the bloodstream. Bacteria in beach water such as Vibrio bacteria can be severely dangerous. Tell junior to stop poking that little crab! 

 

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchins

They come in many sizes. Stepping on one can be painful. Handling one can lead to injuries as well. You should consult your doctor to prevent infections and to remove any spines that may have broken off under the skin. It is recommended that the site be soaked in vinegar to help soften and remove the spines. Next, the spines should be removed with tweezers. Wash the wound site with soap and water. 

The biggest threat is infections at the wound site. Some species have venomous spines. Seek medical help if you have stepped on a sea urchin. Sometimes an x-ray is needed to find small sections of spines under the skin. 

 

Lionfish


Lionfish

Many people find these fish to be very beautiful. They have very long sharp spines that can easily cause injury to humans. Their spines contain venom that can cause extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties, dizziness, and in extreme cases cause heart problems, temporary paralysis, and even death. Seek medical care immediately if stung.

Stingrays

Stingrays are not uncommon at beaches. They often burrow in the sand. They can be a problem if handled or stepped on. If you see one swim by it should not be a cause for alarm since they are not generally aggressive. Watch them swim by, but be careful they don't stop in the sand near you where you might step on them.

They have a long serrated barb at the base of their tails and can whip their tail and embed the barb or hit you with the tail. The barb as you may have guessed contains venom. If the barb has punctured your neck, abdomen, or chest, don’t attempt to remove it. Seek emergency medical attention immediately (call 911). If the sting is elsewhere, the normal reaction for people is to pull out the barb. However, the barb is sharp and enters the skin easily but upon attempts to remove it the barbs dig into the skin. It might be better to have a medical professional to remove it. It is often recommended to immerse the area in hot water for 30–90 minutes and applying antibiotic ointment can help prevent infections, but it is still advisable to also seek out a medical professional. 

 

Barracuda

Sharks, Barracudas, and Other Mean Bitey Bitey Fish

Anyone who visits the beach will catch a glimpse of fish swimming by. Sometimes big fish including sharks are spotted near the shore. I have stood on fishing piers and seen hammerheads go by at the end of the pier while the swimmers at the beach end of the pier have no idea that these predators are routinely swimming nearby. Drones catch large groups migrating near shores quite frequently.

Still, the chances of a shark attack are low at 1 in 11.5 million world-wide according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack data. In your lifetime, the risk in America of a shark attack is about 1 in 3.7 million. (You can find more information about the database here.) There is more of a chance of being struck by lightning.

Nonetheless, attacks do happen. There were 21 unprovoked attacks throughout Florida in 2019 and none were fatal. These numbers indicate that we can still enjoy our beaches without any need to panic. Here are a few tips often recommended for helping to reduce the danger.

  • Don't swim at night, dusk, or dawn
  • Swim in groups (sharks target lone swimmers)
  • Don't wear shiny jewelry
  • Don't swim where people are fishing
  • Don't swim near large schools of fish
  • Don't go in the water if you are bleeding
  • Don't swim far out from the shore alone
  • Don't try to reach out and touch a shark if it swims by (even the small ones)
  • Don't splash around in the water excessively since it mimics a distressed fish
  • Don't go in the water if the lifeguard stand is displaying the purple flag (purple signifies dangerous sea life in the water)

Sargassum Seaweed

The beaches of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast often become depositories of large swatches of Sargassum seaweed that washes ashore. This seaweed floats around until currents and winds bring it to the beaches. I have seen swimmers grab clumps and fling them away to clear the water around them. Kids sometimes will throw the seaweed onto other kids as a prank.

The seaweed itself is not toxic. However, the seaweed is a habitat for tiny sea life such as small crabs, shrimps, and jellyfish larvae. When swimming through a large amount of seaweed you can get bitten by jellyfish larvae which can cause skin irritations. 

Another problem is the Sargassum that washes ashore will begin to decompose in about 48 hours. It does not smell very good. As it rots, it releases hydrogen sulfide and ammonia gasses which can lead to difficulties for people with respiratory conditions. Exposure for prolonged periods can cause heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, vertigo, and headache. So don't place your beach towel next to a large amount of Sargussum Seaweed. Municipalities usually rake-off excessive amounts. 

Harmful Algae Blooms

Harmful algae blooms are a common occurrence in oceans around the world. On occasion, they can be severe. Algae blooms, sometimes called red tides, can be very dangerous. Toxins produced by these blooms can make you sick and can even be fatal to animals and humans. 

If you see signs indicating a beach being closed due to an algae bloom, you should stay away from the beach. Winds can blow these toxins onto the shore and can cause breathing problems in some.

 

Seagulls

Feeding Seagulls

This is one of those ideas that sounds good at first. Feeding the one or two seagulls that wander by appears to be no big deal. A few minutes later and you'll realize the long-term commitment you just entered into. Within seconds, 2 birds become 20 birds and then too many to count.

They won't care that you decided you want to get back to relaxing on your towel. Really, they will hound you. They will grab at any food that you have out in the open and fly off with it. You'll be looking over your shoulder for Hitchcock's camera crew. You will also be very popular with all the sunbathers around you. I warned you! 

 

Coconut Palm

Falling Coconuts

It sounds like a scene from a cartoon, but this is a serious danger. A large coconut falling is like having a bowling ball dropped from 50 feet onto your head. The force can be enough to fracture skulls or cause concussions. Don't park your towel close to palm trees. Be careful with hammocks, beach chairs, and children sitting under trees as well. 

 

Protect Yourself Against Sunburn
Protect Yourself Against Sunburn

Sunburn

Everyone already knows of the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Beachgoers don't always realize that ocean water and sand reflect the light enough to cause sunburns. A partially cloudy day can still cause a sunburn as well. The sun's rays are most harmful between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., especially in late spring and summer.

Use a sunscreen, protective clothing, and limit exposure during the most intense time of day. Read the sunscreen directions and reapply as directed. 

Rip Currents

Riptides or rip currents are powerful flows of water near the shoreline that flow down at the shore and away from land. They move at very dangerous speeds and are difficult for swimmers to navigate. More than 80 percent of lifeguard rescues are due to rip currents.

When ocean winds are blowing into the shore look for signage warning of rip currents. Swim only where there are lifeguards on duty. If you find yourself caught in the pull of a rip current, don't fight it. Don't try to swim towards the shore. You need to attempt to exit the current before you head back towards the shore. Swim parallel to the seashore to escape the current until you feel yourself free of the current's pull. For more information, see the National Weather Service's guide to Rip Current.

Dehydration

After several hours at the beach, in the hot sun, and sweating from the heat, it is very easy to dehydrate. Often, you'll jump in the surf and start swimming and you find yourself cramping up or feeling exhausted due to dehydration. 

It is easy to be having so much fun that hours go by without noticing that you have not been drinking water.  So remember to pack plenty of water for your day at the beach.

Trash: Hooks - Broken Bottles - Fish Hooks - Discarded Nets 

Unfortunately, too many beachgoers just don't care about everyone that comes after them. Don't be one of these people. Pick up after yourself and help to keep our beaches safe and clean. Watch where you are stepping and don't swim under or around fishing piers. 

 

Florida Beach Warning Flags

Always look for warning flags at lifeguard stands or other posted signage. Please follow the information on beach signs and warning flags. The flags are not displayed in all areas and they reflect only known problems. There is no guarantee that the waters are ever 100% safe. Always be aware of the environment you are in.

Conclusion:

The key here is not to cancel your trip to the beach. Be aware of your surroundings. Follow the posted warnings. Millions have a great time at the beach every year. Be safe and get wet!

 

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