It’s that time of the year when almost all of us make plans for outings because of two months of summer vacation, bringing lots of free time and opportunities to relax and have lots of fun. Besides, there is no boring or hard routine of studying and doing assignments, all you have is play and enjoy the days the way you want.
The days are full of energy for adventures and activities. One of the most frequented places in summer is the beach, for there is nothing better than water to beat the heat! Playing and enjoying in the water is the most enjoyable thing one could think of, and not all of us can resist the temptation and the pull towards the crashing waves on the beach … isn’t it?
Those living in Karachi and along coastal areas are blessed to have several beaches. Karachi has a long coastline, stretching from Cape Monze in the west to Port Qasim in the east. It is about 70 kilometres in length and has a number of beaches, including Paradise Point, Hawke’s Bay, Sandspit, French Beach, Sunehra Beach, Mubarak village, Clifton beach and many more that I probably don’t know the name of.
Among several other factors, what makes Karachi’s beaches so dangerous is their undeveloped topography (the features of land). Though the coastal belt is the same, the beaches have different textures and types of sand, water, tide and currents. But all the beaches are beautiful and welcoming.
The allure of the splashing waves and roaring sea is so mesmerising that people often forget about the scorching heat and directly jump in the waters without considering the tide, the currents and the heat.
The seemingly harmless fun activities at the beach often lead to tragedies every year when thousands of people flock to the seaside, completely forgetting about safety and any warnings issued by the government, resulting in drowning and heatstroke due to over exposure to the sun.
While beaches will always be a popular vacation destination, you need to be aware of the risks and dangers that come with visiting the seaside and how you can protect yourself. For instance, heatstroke, sunburn, deadly superbugs, jelly fish, rip currents, water quality, water debris, harmful algae blooms, etc, are some of the dangers that need to be looked out for.
Let’s dig deep into the hidden dangers that can be found on a beach, so that the next time you go to the seaside, you can stay safe and enjoy your visit to the fullest.
While walking on a beach, you may see waves flow onto dry sand. You may also notice hundreds of small round holes that form as the wave recedes. Along with the holes, small mounds of sand several centimetres across are left as the wave sides back to the sea.
Sometimes, the water just bubbles up from the tiny holes and then everything becomes still. So what’s inside?
Well, most often, these tiny holes or the bubbles are made when the wave recedes, some of the water sinks down in the sand and forces the air between sand particles back upwards and the air bubbles out of the sand to create the effect of tiny holes or bubbling holes.
But not all holes give out the same explanation, every beach is different from another, and that many critters that are habitants of these sandy beaches follow the tide as it rises and falls. For instance, sand crabs, sand fleas and sand flies, roly polies (isopods) and beach hoppers, (amphipods), beetles, blood worms and also clams all move up and down the beach according to the water level. So there are also chances of finding any of these inside.
Among those which can bite are sand fleas, they are one of the most common biting sand dwellers. If you develop welt-like bites that are similar to mosquito bites, they are most likely from a sand flea.
Heatstroke and sunburns
A heatstroke occurs when extreme temperatures cause the body’s core temperature to exceed 40 degrees Celsius. When the body is unable to properly cool itself to compensate for the increased heat by sweating, heatstroke may occur.
Common symptoms include nausea, incoherence, fatigue, weakness, vomiting and muscle cramps. So it is suggested that you take breaks while cooling off in the water.
The other problem, that is sunburn, occurs when ultraviolet light from the sun zaps through your skin and kills living cells that normally work to help make new skin. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause genetic mutations in your cells and lead to cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), over 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun.
Sunburn’s sting lasts for much longer after the redness has faded. In order to stay safe from sunburn, you must apply sunscreen lotion, and use shades while chilling on the beach. Besides, keeping your body hydrated is a must.
Superbugs, or strains of bacteria that are resistant to traditional antibiotics, do lurk on beaches and that too in abundance. These bacteria can cause serious skin infection. Once inside human body, they pose serious, life-threatening infections in the bones, lungs and several other organs.
But staying out of the water is not the solution, the only solution is to take shower before and after the visit to the beach so that all the germs and bugs (if any) on you, wash away.
This may seem harmless to many of you, like a fluffy shopper lying on the beach. But don’t get fooled, the fluffy shopper could actually be a jelly fish.
While they may appear to be harmless, squishy blobs, jellyfish can be a real pain, and even quite deadly. The most common jellyfish, called scyphozoans, are not very toxic and a sting from one usually results in a painful, itchy and raised red rash that lasts for a few days.
Keep an eye out for jellyfish. All jellyfish sting, but not all have venom that hurts humans. Of the 2,000 species of jellyfish, only about 70 seriously harm or may occasionally kill people. Be careful around jellies washed up on the sand as some still sting if their tentacles are wet. Unbelievably, tentacles torn off a jellyfish can sting too!
If you are stung, don’t rinse with water, which could release more poison. Lifeguards usually give first aid for stings. See a doctor if you have an allergic reaction.
Harmful strains of E. coli have always been found on the beaches all over the world. E. coli is one of the main species of bacteria that live in the lower intestines of mammals, including humans. The presence of E. coli is an indicator of faecal contamination.
Symptoms of E. coli poisoning include vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, severe abdominal pain and a mild fever, according to the CDC.
To stay safe, the doctors advised against swallowing water while swimming. Washing your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom and before eating, will lower your chances of an infection.
Also known as riptides or undertow, rip currents can happen at any beach that has breaking waves, which are usually narrow, fast-moving streams of water that travel away from shore. They happen when waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, and can be affected by the presence of sandbars or man-made structures, such as piers near the beach.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rip currents are responsible for more than 80 percent of lifeguard rescues. A rip current won’t pull you under, but it will drag you deeper and deeper into the ocean.
To break free, start swimming back to shore without the power of the rip current pulling at you, swim parallel to the coast to escape the current. Then you will need to swim at an angle straight to shore once you are free.
Harmful algae blooms
You must have noticed the dark green or brown plant-like stuff scattered around the beach, and also coming in the waves, these are called algae blooms. Algae aren’t always harmful, but when large colonies of algae form and bloom at the same time, they release toxins into the water and air since they tend to float when they are in bloom. Their toxins can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, difficulty breathing, eye and throat irritation.
One of the most important and vital point here is the quality of the water on these beaches. Coastal beaches are among the most treasured natural resources in any nation, but beach closures or advisories caused by poor water quality often prevent the public from enjoying these resources.
So how does the mighty sea get damaged? As water flows from land to coastal waters, it is often contaminated by untreated sewage from boats, pets, failing septic systems, fertilisers and spills from hazardous substances. Sea water contaminated by sewage, storm-water pollution, and other hazardous substances can make beachgoers very sick as the water in the sea can get into the swimmer’s eyes, ears and mouth, causing health problems. Additionally, bacteria and other nasty things can breed in polluted water and cause even more problems for beachgoers.
Always avoid water that looks murky, smells bad and has a film on it. Also avoid water and beach areas near piers, pipers and other outlets that might have contaminated water.
Unfortunately, the seaside is not exempted from the contamination by humans. Think of your last visit to the beach, any beach of Karachi, what did you find there?
Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there. Huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, vessels and other lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day, making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways.
This debris, or litter, often ends up on our beaches, damaging habitats, harming wildlife, and making it unsafe for beachgoers to walk along the shoreline and swim in the water. So whichever beach you visit, always be careful where you put your feet!
Though ‘shark attacks’ make big splashes in the news, these toothy fish are not your biggest threat on the beach on the Karachi coastal belt.
Shark attacks, though rare, are most likely to occur near the shore, typically inshore of a sandbar or between sandbars, where sharks can become trapped by low tide, and near steep drop-offs where sharks’ prey together. Just don’t swim too far from the shore, stay in groups, avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight, and don’t go in the water if you are bleeding from a wound.
Hope you will keep these points in mind the next time you are on the beach in order to fully enjoy your visit.
Published in Dawn, Young World, May 28th, 2022