Beach critters to beware of...

2013-11-28 09:02

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2013-11-21 10:53

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Beach bats, volley ball, dips in the ocean and long walks – aah balmy days on the beach are just the best.

So much so that it’s easy to forget about all the dangers that lurk around almost every sandy corner and just beyond the breakers. Yes, that’s right – the beach is a pretty hazardous place if you don’t know how to navigate it.

But, calm your nerves and stifle your fears, we’re here to help you spot danger before it approaches or deal with it if it sneaks up unexpectedly.

Blue bottles

If you’re an avid beach-goer, chances are pretty good that you’ve had a run-in with these nasty bloated critters.

Also known as Portuguese Man o’ War, these marine cnidarian consist of a gas-filled bladder and long venomous tentacles that are known to deliver a painful sting when making contact with human skin. Blue bottles normally occur on the surface of the ocean and can be blown to shore and into bays by strong winds. They are found all along South Africa’s coastline.

They mostly arrive in large clusters, making swimming and other watersports almost impossible.    

The danger: Blue bottle stings are extremely painful and normally made worse by the fact that you cannot remove the tentacles from the surface of your skin very easily. As with bee stings, some people are also more prone to allergic reactions than others. However, blue bottle fatalities are extremely rare. Stings cause red welts, sometimes blisters and the worst of the burn wares off after about an hour in most cases. If pain continues, it’s best to have it checked out by doctor.

Injury prevention: If you spot more than a handful of bluebottles on the shore, chances are good there are many more lurking in the waves – best not to go swimming! Also do not touch the tentacles of dead blue bottles, they remain poisonous for a while after the organism has died.

What to do in case of injury: Rinse the affected area with sea water, NOT with fresh water as this aggravates the sting. If the tentacles are still attached to the skin, remove them gently, using a towel, sarong or piece of clothing. It will be painful, so try keeping the victim as calm as possible. There are also a number of ways to alleviate pain, including urinating on the affected area (yup, gross, but hey it works). Once you get home, apply anti-histamine cream and dose the victim with painkillers.

Sea urchins

While the fragile, pumpkin-shaped shells left behind by sea urchins after they die are highly sought-after beachcomber fare - the sticky creatures they are while still alive are best left well alone.

Also known as sea hedgehogs, sea urchins are found all over the world in all different types of seas and oceans – you’re most likely, however, to encounter them in rock pools along our coastline.

The danger: While wading among rock pools you may accidentally step on or touch a sea urchin. Their natural reaction is to shoot a number of their spines into their attacker’s flesh (even when you’re not really attacking). While many may not contain enough venom to affect a human, there are the odd exceptions. If venom is present, severe, burning pain combined with heat, swelling and numbness may last for hours. Even if there is no venom, the sting is still rather uncomfortable and all spines would have to be removed from the affected area.

Injury prevention: Wear shoes or booties and gloves while wading around rock pools. Do not reach out to touch urchins with your bare hands.

What to do in case of injury: Remove as many spines as possible while on the beach – unless you have a pair of tweezers with you, you will have to do this with your hands. Once you get home, remove the last remaining spines then cover the affected area with a cloth soaked in vinegar, rinse your foot in warm water and apply vinegar once more to alleviate the pain.  


Jellyfish are listed among the five most deadly on earth, however, not all are equally dangerous. South African waters are mostly inhabited by a relatively harmless type of box jellyfish, however there have been a few cases of fatal incidents. Even if a jellyfish isn’t particularly venomous, their stings are sure to cause a good deal of pain.

The danger: Jellyfish aren’t always easy to spot in the water. Because of their mostly transparent bodies, they blend in with the surrounds and are effectively masters of disguise. Thus it’s easy for swimmers and divers to stumble across them unexpectedly. Like with blue bottles, the jellyfish’s venom lies in its tentacles, however, similar to bee stings, they have the ability to leave behind stingers, as bees would.

Injury prevention: If you’ve spotted a couple of jellyfish on the beach, this could mean that there are more lurking just beyond the breakers – best keep clear of the water. If you come across a jellyfish on the beach, do not assume that it is harmless, instead make sure that it has lost its tentacles before touching it. You may have the urge to put a jellyfish on your head – they are kind of hat-shaped – but NEVER EVER try it.

What to do in case of injury: Get out of the water and remove what you can of the tentacles and stingers on the beach – rub sand on the affected area and scrape with a plastic card (warning: this WILL be painful).  Once again, pain in the affected area can be alleviated by urinating on it. Alternatively, you can use the juice of sour fig leaves – they often grow in coastal areas and serve as both a pain killer and antiseptic.

Once you get home, remove the remaining stingers by applying shaving cream and scraping the skin closely with a razor. Apply a paste of baking soda and water to extract venom and use a face cloth to cover it and reapply every 15 to 20 minutes. If pain and swelling continues, or any other allergic reactions manifest, seek out medical advice immediately.


While most anemones are too small to inflict any real damage when stinging a human being, it’s important to know that they do have the ability.

The danger: Dwelling on rocks, these flower-like sea creatures are often sought-out by curious kids, who want to feel the pricky tentacles closing about their fingers.

Injury prevention: If you have kids, it’s best to inform them that anemones may not always be as harmless as they seem. Advise them to look, not touch, unless they have an adult with lots of knowledge of the sea to accompany them.

What to do in case of injury: In the unlikely event of an anemone sting, rinse the affected area with sea water and try removing the stinger as quickly as possible. Once at home, apply an antihistamine lotion to the area and keep a close eye out for any further allergic reactions.

Glass and rusted metal

Despite strict regulations about alcohol consumption and littering on beaches, the odd rusted metal can and glass bottle slips through the cracks.

The danger: It’s easy to overlook a sharp piece of glass or rusted metal under the sand while walking along the beach, which could easily cut into your foot. This could easily cause an infection, blood poisoning or tetanus if not treated properly.

Injury prevention: Wear light, closed shoes while walking on the beach and keep your eyes peeled for any strange objects. If you go walking in the twilight hours, best keep a torch handy.

What to do in case of injury: Clean the wound with salt water while on the beach and once you get home gauge how deep the cut is. If it’s only a shallow abrasion, apply antiseptic lotion and plasters – if you haven’t had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years, it would also be a good idea to ask a doctor’s advice about this. If it’s a deep cut, seek out medical advice immediately, as you may need stitches and almost certainly a shot. 

Read more on:    beach  |  summer  |  travel  |  holidays  |  travel international

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