Respecting the Rip

Respecting the Rip

It was disheartening to read that even with double red flags flying, 22 people had to be recused from the Gulf near Destin, FL recently, and one person lost their life.  In that spirit, I believe it is important to review information on the importance of respecting our sometimes-unforgiving gulf.

 

First of all, stay calm.

Photo By: Laura Tiu

 

Swimmers getting caught in rip currents make up the majority of lifeguard rescues. These tips from Florida Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service (NWS) can help you know what to do if you encounter a rip current.

 

What Are Rip Currents?

Rip currents are formed when water flows away from the shore in a channeled current. They may form in a break in a sandbar near the shore, or where the current is diverted by a pier or jetty.

From the shore, you can look for these clues in the water:

  • A channel of choppy water.
  • A difference in water color.
  • A line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving out to sea.
  • A break in incoming wave patterns.

If you get caught in a rip current, don’t panic! Stay calm and do not fight the current. Escape the current by swimming across it–parallel to shore–until you are out of the current. When you get out of it, swim back to the shore at an angle away from the current. If you can’t break out of the current, float or tread water until the current weakens. Then swim back to shore at an angle away from the rip current. Rip currents are powerful enough to pull even experienced swimmers away from the shore. Do not try to swim straight back to the shore against the current.

Tips for Swimming Safely

You can swim safely this summer by keeping in mind some simple rules. Many people have harmed themselves trying to rescue rip current victims, so follow these steps to help someone stuck in a rip current.  Get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not present, yell instructions to the swimmer from the shore and call 9-1-1. If you are a swimmer caught in a rip current and need help, draw attention to yourself–face the shore and call or wave for help.

Photo by: Laura Tiu

 

How Do I Escape a Rip Current?

  • Rip currents pull people away from shore, not under the water. Rip currents are not “undertows” or “rip tides.”
  • Do not overestimate your swimming abilities. Be cautious at all times.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Swim near a lifeguard for maximum safety.
  • Obey all instructions and warnings from lifeguards and signs.
  • If in doubt, don’t go out!

 

Adapted and excerpted from:  “Rip Currents”  Florida Sea Grant

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Oil Spill Science Seminar held in Okaloosa County

Oil Spill Science Seminar held in Okaloosa County

Dr. Monica Wilson, University of Florida Sea Grant, shares an update on the research that has occurred in the past five years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Presented in the Rodeo Room at the Destin History and Fishing Museum.

Dr. Monica Wilson, University of Florida Sea Grant, shares an update on the research that has occurred in the past five years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Presented in the Rodeo Room at the Destin History and Fishing Museum. Photo credit: Laura Tiu

The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill occurred about 50 miles offshore of Louisiana in April 2010. Approximately 172 million gallons of oil entered the Gulf of Mexico. Five years after the incident, locals and tourists still have questions. The Okaloosa County UF/IFAS Extension Office invited a Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Scientist, Dr. Monica Wilson, to help answer the five most common questions about the oil spill and to increase the use of oil spill science by people whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Gulf.

The event was held at the Destin History and Fishing Museum on Monday evening, July 11, 2016. Executive Director, Kathy Marler Blue partnered with the University of Florida to host the event. “The Destin History and Fishing Museum has a vision that includes expanding its programs to include a lecture series,” said Blue. Over 20 interested individuals attended the lecture and the question and answer session was lively. This was the first in what hopes to be an ongoing lecture series, bringing more scientific information to our county.

Dr. Wilson is based in St. Petersburg, Florida with the Florida Sea Grant College Program. Monica uses her physical oceanography background to model circulation and flushing of coastal systems in the region and the impacts of tropical storms on these systems. She focuses on the distribution, dispersion and dilution of petroleum under the action of physical ocean processes and storms. For this lecture, she covered topics such as: the safety of eating Gulf seafood, impacts to wildlife, what cleanup techniques were used, how they were implemented, where the oil went, where is it now, and do dispersants make it unsafe to swim in the water?

The oil spill science outreach program also allows Sea Grant specialists to find out what types of information target audiences want and develop tailor-made products for those audiences. The outreach specialists produce a variety of materials, such as fact sheets and bulletins, focused on meeting stakeholder information needs. The specialists also gather input from target audiences through workshops and work with researchers to share oil spill research results at science seminars that are facilitated by the specialists.

The Destin History and Fishing Museum is a nonprofit organization whose members are dedicated to preserving, documenting, and sharing the complete history of Destin. Please subscribe to their Facebook page for information on upcoming events. The UF IFAS Extension Okaloosa County office also hosts a Facebook page with announcement of upcoming programs.

For additional information and publications related to the oil spill please visit: https://gulfseagrant.wordpress.com/oilspilloutreach/

Remember Safety when at the Beach!!

Remember Safety when at the Beach!!

Navarre Beachtourists

The sugary white sands along the Panhandle, attract millions of visitors to our area throughout the year. It is important for locals and visitors to understand and consider the following tips for safety at the beach.

The danger of rip currents far outweighs the danger of having a shark encounter. As a result of past storms, the nearshore sandbars along our beaches have changed and the frequency of rip currents has increased. A rip current is a turbulent, fast flowing current that can carry a swimmer out to sea very quickly. The currents are formed when water rushes out to sea in a narrow path (like a break in the nearshore sandbar or from an obstruction of the current caused by a groin or jetty or other type of barrier). Rip currents can last for a few hours or may be permanent; they usually exist when the surf is rough and after storms, but can occur on calm days.

Some signs of rip currents include:

  • A difference in water color. The water may be murkier from increased sediments or appear darker because it is deeper.
  • A channel of churning, choppy water.
  • A line of foam, seaweed or debris being carried directly out to sea.

Rip currents can be difficult to spot. Wearing polarized sunglasses will help you recognize changes in water color. Click here to learn more about rip currents.

If you are caught in a rip current, try not to panic or swim against the current. Swim to the left or right of the current, parallel to shore until you are out of the current. Rip currents range in width from a few feet to many feet wide.  If you can’t break out of the current, float calmly out until it ends, usually just beyond the breakers. Then swim diagonally to shore.

Remember, always use common sense and swim responsibly. For current surf conditions check out the National Weather Service rip current forecast.

Know the meaning of the beach warning flags:

  • beachflags A double red flagmeans the water is closed to the public.
  • A single red flag means the surf is very dangerous and you should stay out of the water.
  • A yellow flag indicates that you should take caution when in the water.
  • A green flag indicates that conditions are safe for swimming.
  • A purple flag means there could be dangerous marine life such as jellyfish.

 

 

 

When swimming at the beach it is important to remember that the Gulf of Mexico is a wilderness, not a swimming pool. Use common sense when enjoying the Gulf.  Some safety tips to remember include:

  • Swim near a life guard.
  • Know your swimming abilities and limits, if you can’t swim stay out of the water.
  • Swim in groups or use the buddy system; never swim alone.
  • Be aware of weather conditions; get out of the water and away from the beach during electrical storms. Taking shelter in a building is best, but otherwise a car.
  • Always enter the water, feet first every time!
  • Don’t swim in murky waters or between dusk and dawn.
  • Stay calm in the event of an emergency.
  • Pay attention and know the meaning of beach warning flags. Pay attention to lifeguards.
  • Avoid swimming in areas where people are fishing.
  • To avoid being stung by a sting ray, shuffle your feet, this will stir up the sand and scare away sting rays.
  • Always wear sunscreen or protect your skin with clothing.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard, have someone call 9-1-1. Throw the victim something that will float and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many drown while trying to save someone from a rip current.

Follow these tips to help make a visit to the beach a safe one!

Be Beach Aware with Jellyfish Out There

Be Beach Aware with Jellyfish Out There

Summertime and swimming at the beach just go together naturally in Florida with our state’s more than 1,000 miles of coastline. Many fond memories are created along these salty margins and the Panhandle region of the state has some of the top-rated beaches in the world. It is a great place to experience a relaxing, cool dip in the Gulf of Mexico on a balmy summer day. One thing to be aware of though is the possibility of an encounter with one of the Gulf’s “stinging” inhabitants and what to do if this occurs.

The Moon Jelly is a Common Inhabitant Along Panhandle Shores. Photo courtesy Florida Sea Grant

The Moon Jelly is a Common Inhabitant Along Panhandle Shores. Photo courtesy Florida Sea Grant

There are actually several different organisms that have the capability to sting. This is primarily their mechanism for capturing food but it may also serve to deter predators. Most belong to a group of organisms called “Cnidarians,” which includes the jellyfish. Most jellyfish are harmless to us and are important food sources for many other marine creatures, including some sea turtles, fish and even other jellies! Some species are even dried, shredded and eaten by humans. However, there are several types of jellyfish that will inflict a sting when brushed against and some that are actually a serious hazard. Keep in mind that people also react differently to most venoms, exhibiting varying degrees of sensitivity. The most dangerous types include some of the box jellyfish species (visit HERE for general map of worldwide jellyfish fatalities), and the blue-colored Portuguese man-o-war, which is sometimes common on our shores after sustained southerly winds during summer. A few of our locally common species that cause pain but of a generally less-severe nature include the moon jelly, sea nettle, and cannonball jellyfish. We even have some species of hydroids that look very much like a bushy brown or red algae. They are usually attached to the bottom substrate but when pieces break off and drift into the surf they can provide a painful encounter.

If you are stung there are a couple of things you can do to help and a couple of things you should not do. First, move away from the location by getting out of the water so you don’t encounter more tentacles. Carefully remove any visible tentacle pieces but not with your fingers. You should also change out of swimwear that may have trapped pieces of tentacles or tiny larval jellyfish against the skin. Do not rinse the area with fresh water as this causes the remaining stinging cells to fire their venomous harpoons. If symptoms go beyond a painful sting to having difficulty breathing or chest pain you should immediately call the Poison Information Center Network at 1-800-222-1222 or call 911.

Another thing to watch for in areas where public beaches display the beach warning flag system is a purple flag. This flag color at the beach indicates dangerous marine life and quite often it is flown when jellyfish numbers are at high levels. All of this is being written, not to scare you away from our beaches, but to help you enjoy our beautiful coastline with a little better understanding of what is out there and what to do if you happen to have a brush with a jellyfish. The vast majority of encounters are a minor irritation in an otherwise pleasant experience.

Life’s a Beach!  Practice Beach Safety and Etiquette

Life’s a Beach! Practice Beach Safety and Etiquette

It is that time of year again. Spring Break brings locals and visitors back to the beach for fun in the sun. It is important to remind folks that part of having fun is playing it safe. At the beach, this means knowing and following some pretty basic safety guidelines.

Not all beaches have lifeguards present, you have to be responsible for your own safety.  When visiting the beach, it is important to consider the tide and surf conditions. To minimize the risks of drowning or serious injury, a uniform warning flag program was developed for use by Florida’s beachfront communities. Florida’s beach warning flag program uses flags in four colors accompanied by interpretive signs along the beach to explain the meaning of each color in both English and Spanish. Please follow the guidelines and flags posted.

You also need to check for the presence of rip currents. Rip currents are powerful currents of water moving away from the shore. They can pull even a strong swimmer out to sea. It is best to not enter the water where a rip current is present. However, if you find yourself caught in one, try to relax and don’t fight the current, swim out of the current parallel to the shore and swim to shore when you no longer feel the pull of the current.

Protect your skin. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chance for developing melanoma later in life. Racking up more than five sunburns at any age also doubles the risk for melanoma. Keep sunburn at bay by properly applying sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher. Try to spend some time in the shade, wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes. Remember to hydrate by drinking plenty of water too.

It is good to know a little bit about and appreciate the ocean life you might meet on the beach. Shark attacks aren’t common, especially in shallow shore areas, but always be on the lookout. Shells on mussels, clams and oysters can be very sharp so be careful walking near them. Some species of jellyfish have tentacles that contain venom and can sting you. Avoid them if you can.  Learn about the animals you will find at the beach and you will be able to co-exist with little risk.

Many ocean creatures need our protection. Sea turtles and many shorebirds are protected and there are things you can do to help them. For sea turtles, keep the beach clean (remove all trash and furniture), dark (turn off lights on beach and don’t use flashlights) and flat (fill in any holes you dig so that turtles don’t become trapped). In fact, it’s recommended that you take only pictures and leave only footprints. Stay away from nesting shorebird habitat. Many beaches do not allow you to bring your pets to the beach for health and safety reasons and to protect venerable wildlife. Be sure to know the rules before you bring Fido to the beach.

Finally, please help keep the beach tidy. When your visit is over, take back everything you brought. Food scraps attract unwanted animals, fishing line injures and kills birds and other wildlife and plastic is harmful to both the environment and the animals that sometimes mistake it for food. Abandoned beach furniture and toys can obstruct sea turtle nesting and hatching. The best policy is to leave the beach cleaner than you found it.

Have a good time at the beach. Take a little time to learn and follow the safety rules that are there for your protection. Practice good citizenship by caring for and conserving the beach and ocean ecosystems in order to keep them beautiful in the present and for future generations.

Many counties in the panhandle have lighting and barrier ordinances to protect wildlife and workers. Photo: Rick O'Connor

Many counties in the panhandle have lighting and barrier ordinances to protect wildlife and workers.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

Follow these beach safety tips for helping your family enjoy the beach while protecting coastal wildlife.

Follow these beach safety tips for helping your family enjoy the beach while protecting coastal wildlife.

Snorkeling… 5 Ways to Safely Enjoy Our Nearshore Snorkel Reefs

Snorkeling… 5 Ways to Safely Enjoy Our Nearshore Snorkel Reefs

It’s that time of year… the air is warming and spring break has begun. Crowds of locals and visitors have begun to descend on area beaches to enjoy the panhandle sunshine and waterways, and safety is always a concern.

One of the many water activities visitors can enjoy are snorkeling our nearshore reefs. From St. Andrew’s to Perdido Key, panhandle counties provide several snorkel options that can be reached from shore.  However, there are hazards that all need to be aware of and, with a few behavior changes, the risk can be reduced.

Know your limitations… Some of snorkel spots are an easy swim – some you can even walk to – but others can be a 500 ft. swim or more. Nearshore snorkel reefs must have 6 ft. of water clearance above them at low tide – to avoid collisions with boats – and this can be mean they are considerable distance from shore. If you are not a strong swimmer you need to consider a snorkel vest that can be inflated while you swim to the location. Once there you can deflate and enjoy. Keep in mind that this depth requirement may require a 20 ft. dive to reach the bottom.

  1. Sun protection… with your face in the water observing the marine life you become comfortable and relaxed, but your back and legs will still be exposed to the sun. Recent studies have indicated that sunscreen has been a problem for coral polyps in the Keys but you will need to protect yourself. If you are not interested in sunscreen a long sleeve t-shirt or surfing chaff-guard should be considered.
  2. A dive flag… they are actually required for snorkeling in Florida. With the number of jet ski and pontoon rentals exploring some of the same areas you will be snorkeling, this flag is a must. If snorkeling in open water, a dive buoy can be used in lieu of a dive flag.  The dive buoy can have either 3 or 4 sides but must display dive symbols.  The symbols must be at least 12×12 inches.  However, if displaying from a boat you must continue to use a standard dive flag at least 20×24 inches. In open water you must remain within 300 ft. of the dive marker. If snorkeling in a channel you must remain within 100 ft.
  3. Marine life… Some of the inhabitants on local snorkel spots can deliver a painful bite or sting. It is not recommended that any snorkeler try to capture any form of marine life; in state and national parks it is prohibited. Spearfishing may be illegal in some locations, check with local dive shops to determine. The state has several non-take species for spearfishing. Those can be found at http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/spearing/
  4. As always pay attention to the Beach Safety Flags. These are posted for your safety. “Red” = stay out of the water, conditions are not good; “Yellow” = enter with caution, should be a strong swimmer; “Green” = all is good, enjoy; “Purple” dangerous marine life have been seen in the area – generally these are jellyfish but could mean frequently seen sharks or other hazardous marine life.
This sea turtle frequents the nearshore snorkel reef at Park East in Escambia County. Photo: Robert Turpin

This sea turtle frequents the nearshore snorkel reef at Park East in Escambia County.
Photo: Robert Turpin

These range markers allow snorkelers to find the reef when swimming. Photo: Rick O'Connor

These range markers allow snorkelers to find the reef when swimming.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

There are a lot of interesting organisms to be found on our local snorkel reefs and it will be a great addition to your day at the beach. With a few behavior changes on your part, and adhering to regulations, the adventure should be an enjoyable and safe one.