By Kelly Baughman
With some of the busiest tourist’s weekends of the summer on the horizon, it is important to know how to keep you, your loved ones, and our natural inhabitants safe this beach season. Not following the rules have consequences that can be tragic for animals, people, and the environment as well. Here’s how you can protect yourself and all the things that make a day at the beach great.
The first thing to remember when heading out on the beach is that it will be HOT! Too much heat and sun can spoil a vacation. Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States, causing more deaths than floods, lightning, tornados, and hurricanes combined. Heat disorder symptoms include sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Keep an eye out for jellyfish. When on the beach, take note of jellyfish warning signs. Be careful around jellies washed up on the sand as some still sting if their tentacles are wet. Tentacles torn off a jellyfish can sting, too. If you are stung, don’t rinse with water, which could release more poison. Instead, try ammonia or seek help from lifeguards or park rangers. Make sure to check the warning flags for a purple flag (meaning dangerous wildlife in the area) which usually means jellyfish are present when flying.
Yes, shark attacks can happen in our waters. Though rare, most are likely to occur near shore, typically inshore of a sandbar or between sandbars, where sharks can become trapped by low tide, and near steep drop offs where shark’s prey gather. To protect yourself, avoid swimming at dusk and dawn which are prime feeding times for sharks. In addition, do not enter the water if bleeding from a wound and avoid wearing shiny jewelry and brightly colored swimwear while in the water.
Spending the day at the beach can lead to any of these disorders but the most visible is sunburn, which can take up to 24 hours before the full damage is visible. Remember to apply and reapply sunscreen throughout the day while at the beach and hydrate as much as possible. If you have a burn that is severe, accompanied by a headache, chills, or a fever, seek medical help right away.
It is that special time of year again when our Gulf Coast beaches are peppered with sea turtle nest filled with hundreds of little ones just waiting to burst from the sand. Every May through August, four of the seven species of sea turtles choose the warm soft sands of Perdido Key, Orange Beach, and Gulf Shores as the perfect place to nest. Ensuring that all of our newest additions have a chance for survival is in your hands.
First and foremost, NEVER walk through the dunes! Not only can you disturb sea turtles and their nests, you can disrupt nesting sea birds, the endangered Perdido Key Beach Mouse’s habitat, and destroy delicate sea oats and grasses that are imperative to preventing beach erosion.
Remember that it is against the law to touch or disturb any wildlife nests, especially sea turtle nests and their hatchlings. Sea turtles are protected by both the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Florida Marine Protection Act. If you see an injured or dead sea turtle, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC from your cell phone.
Please be prepared to answer the following questions: What is the exact location of the animal? Is the turtle alive or dead? What is the approximate size of the turtle? Is the turtle marked with spray paint? (This indicates that the turtle has been documented.) What is the location of the closest access point to the turtle? Wildlife officials want to do everything in their power to help our injured turtle friends, and the more information you can give them in the initial call, the better chance they have at saving these beautiful creatures.
As turtles emerge from the nest, it is their instinct to head for the brightest lights. This typically means the moonlight over the water, as turtles usually hatch during the full moon. In recent years, an overabundance of lights from condos, streetlights, and entertainment complexes has made the hatchlings first day a tough one.
Disoriented hatchlings that crawl northward away from the water typically fall prey to ghost crabs, foxes or other predators, get lost in the sand dunes, or are even hit by passing cars. While volunteers watch the nests as closely as possible, there are still a few things residents and visitors alike can do to help make the little guy’s first dip in the Gulf of Mexico a memorable one.
First, remove any excess outdoor lighting or indoor lighting that may be visible from the beach, or draw your curtains at night to block indoor light from the dunes. Use low-pressure sodium vapor lights of 50 watts or less. These are less likely to attract sea turtles and will also keep bugs away from your doors. Avoid using spotlights and flashlights while on the beach, and finally, turn all unnecessary outdoor lighting off or lower fixtures below the line of sight of the dunes.
While enjoying the beautiful beaches whether day or night, please take your trash with when you leave. Our oceans are filled with huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, fishing gear, vessels, and other lost or discarded items, making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways. Often this debris, or litter, ends up on our beaches damaging habitats, harming wildlife, and making it unsafe for beach goers to walk along the shoreline and swim in the water.
Bring an empty garbage bag with you to use as a receptacle for your trash throughout the day, and put it in the cans available at all beach access points on your way out. You might even consider recycling what you can by dropping off items at the Orange Beach Public Works, 4400 William Silvers Pkwy, Orange Beach, and the Orange Beach Community Center, 27435 Canal Road, Orange Beach, locations.
Following these simple rules will help ensure that our shores will continue to be an amazing place to enjoy a day at the beach for years to come for everyone.