Every year the lure of sand, surf and sea brings many visitors to the beaches. Most East Tennesseans head to the Carolinas, especially since I-26 is a straight shot to Charleston, S.C., and points along the Palmetto State. Others venture to the calm, colorful waters of Florida’s beaches. Still others head by airplane to exotic destinations from Maine to Hawaii.
The vast majority of them go home with nothing more than good memories. There are things to look out for, however. While there’s no need to obsess over negative possibilities, a little self-education can help ensure a positive outing.
• The warmer times of the year are the most popular beach times, especially for families with children. Summer is when school is out. However, this means hot days, and I mean hot, especially for us mountain folk. Drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids; keep yourself shaded for a reasonable amount of time, and cool off in the water to prevent symptoms that could lead to heat exhaustion. Most important, the sun can do plenty of damage on its own. Occurrences of skin cancer are rising rapidly. By all means, wear a hat and use plenty of sunscreen. Of course, shade and clothing are the most effective sunscreens around. I personally try to keep as much on my body covered as I can tolerate.
• Beachcombing is a timehonored coastal pastime. Unfortunately, especially in populated areas, trash sometimes washes up on the beach. Watch for nails on boards, glass, and other foot-puncturing items. Consider wearing sandals, especially after the sun goes down.
• When it’s hot there’s nothing like a swim in the ocean. Beaches with lifeguards are ideal, but that is not always possible. Exercise caution when swimming and keep apprised of tide and surf conditions, especially rip currents. Showing your friends that you’re strong enough to swim in a rip tide isn’t worth the risk. Use an approved flotation device if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable in the water, and always have someone swimming with you. And please, always keep an eye on your children when you’re near the water. It takes just a moment to sweep a child out to sea.
• Sharks aren’t as much of a concern as hyped, but there are a few oceanic organisms that can ruin your day. There are many types of jellyfish that can inflict damage. The most notable is the Portuguese man-of-war, whose tentacles can cause severe burns and blisters even if dead on the beach. Sea nettles and upsidedown jellyfish cause rashes and itching. Not all jellyfish are toxic, of course, but stay away from all jellyfish as a rule of thumb.
• Don’t forget that threats run both ways. All of us who want to enjoy America’s beautiful coastlines also pose a threat to them. When you interact with coastal environments, tread lightly. Picking sea oats destabilizes the dunes. Driving motorized vehicles in restricted areas tears up the landscape. In your boat, watch your prop and don’t motordredge up shallow waters. Honor fishing regulations. You know what not to do. Think about what you can do. Be a steward for the land and waters that lap against its shore. Together we can make our coastline the bountiful beautiful place that we know it can be and should be in the future. Have a good time.