Beach Safety



San Diego red tide
Photo: Red tide near Scripps Pier, La Jolla


Beach safety is still a primary concern despite how beautiful and soothing a beach may appear. The ocean has numerous hidden dangers. Stay ahead of the game by reading the warnings below.



Beach Safety: Natural Dangers
Some things are just beyond our control. Mother nature has her own agenda and we can just stand back and be respectful of the ocean's delights and dangers.

Red tide: Red tide is a natural phenomena caused by high levels of microscopic algae in the ocean waters. The algae is reddish brown in color and can cause the ocean waters to appear red. Most red algae are harmless to humans but some have toxins within their cells. Swimming in red tide waters may irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and may cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Eating shellfish with this algae may cause neurotoxin shellfish poisoning. Simple solution.

Fish and Shellfish contaminants: Some sea creatures accumulate toxins in their bodies and, as such, should not be eaten. Toxins include: mercury, PCBs, chlordane, dioxins, and DDT. The FDA recommends that: young children, nursing mothers, pregnant women, and women who plan to become pregnant should avoid eating certain fish and shellfish. Simple solution.

Sting Rays, Jellyfish, and Sharks: Yes, the ocean is home to many creatures big and small. Beach safety here revolves around being respectful and staying away from these creatures.

Sting Rays tend to hide just under the surface of the sand. If you step on them, they will whip their barbed tail over your foot and give you a sting that you will not forget. Incredible pain will shoot up your foot - it is often necessary to seek emergency care. Simple solution.

Jellyfish look quite ethereal floating around the ocean, but they will surely bring you back to earth if they sting you with their tentacles. Be wary - jellyfish washed onto shore may look dead, but their tentacles may still sting, so if you must examine it, poke it, with a stick. Simple solution.

Sharks are present in San Diego's ocean waters. Most of them, like the leopard shark are harmless. Larger sharks exist, but they are usually further away from shore. It is good to note that most sharks do not actively hunt humans, though fatal shark attacks do occur in San Diego. When sharks are spotted off the coast of San Diego, lifeguards will warn beach goers of the potential danger. It is, however, up to you to decide whether the water is safe or not. Simple solution.


Rip Currents: are narrow bands of water that flow away from shore. Some rip currents can go as fast as 8 feet per second and unsuspecting swimmers can be swept far away from shore. Each year, approximately 100 people die because of rip currents: either they cannot swim, they panic, they are exhausted; or they drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current. Simple solution.

UV irradiation: San Diego boasts year-round beautiful weather, but this comes with a price. The hot sun with its damaging UV is not good for you. Touring in a hot day may cause dehydration and/or sun-stroke. Repeated and prolonged exposure to the sun may cause long-term damage such as skin cancer. It's not a beach safety concern: the UV index in San Diego is 9 or more this means you can acquire skin damage after 10 minutes in the sun! Simple solution.



Beach Safety: Man-Made Dangers


Interestingly, many of the dangers at the beach are caused by none other than ourselves: humans.

Pollutants: most pollutants found in the ocean is from overflowing sewage, broken septic systems, boating wastes, rain water, and accidental chemical & sewage spills. After a heavy rain, pesticides, chemicals, and bacteria are carried to the beach from lawns, farms, dirty streets, construction sites, and pet poop. Simple solution.

Garbage: Most San Diegans are very responsible and care for our natural beauties. However, it only takes one bad apple to ruin the bunch. Keep an eye out for broken glass, crushed soda cans, cigarette butts, plastic bags, and food containers etc. Approximately 80% of the debris found on the beach is from a land base source; 60% is plastics (because it is not biodegradeable!) Simple solution.

People: be wary of thieves who can ruin your day of fun. When the sun sets and the life guards have gone home, the beach scene can get rough. Young ones in the late-teens & early-twenties may get overly rambunctious. Simple solution.

But Wait! Having said all this, it should be noted that, generally, San Diego beaches are clean and safe. Of the 10+ years I have lived here, I have never had my wallet, or camera stolen, nor have I ever been threatened by someone at the beach. I have never seen a shark nor have I ever gotten sick from accidentally swallowing a mouthful of ocean water.