Two of the things for which Australia is most well known and loved – sun and surf – are also potentially two of its riskiest features. Many people come here to take advantage of our world class beaches and stunning sunny weather. The irony is, that if not treated with the respect they deserve, these two elements of Mother Nature can have nasty repercussions.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. There are some very simple safety measures that you can take when at the beach and outdoors to make sure your fun in the sun doesn’t come back to haunt you.
There’s no question that Australia has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But the hidden dangers can be treacherous. Many people are unaware of the risks they potentially face. From rip currents to wild waves and dangerous marine creatures, it’s worth getting your facts straight about the ocean.
Australia’s stunning coastline has some of the best beaches in the world. But if you don’t understand the risks and take precautions, you could get yourself into some dangerous situations.
Rip currents are one of the most common and greatest dangers on Australian beaches. They are currents that flow out to sea and are created by the patterns of waves breaking on the shore and the water flowing back out to sea.
Around 20 people drown in rip currents in Australia each year. Avoiding rips is the most important reason for swimming at a patrolled beach. Make sure you stay between the yellow and red flags when you are in the water.
Australian Surf Life Savers say, ‘if we can’t see you, we can’t save you’, so it’s vital to make sure you stay in the area they are watching – between the flags. To get more information about how rips are formed and what to look out for, visit the Beachsafe website.
Australia is home to some of the most deadly marine creatures in the world. It’s important to understand what they are and make sure you steer clear of them
The beautiful but deadly Blue Ringed Octopus usually camouflages itself in shallow rock pools, only displaying its stunning blue rings, after which it is named when threatened. While its bite is relatively painless, it releases a neuro-toxin that can cause numbness of the lips and tongue and difficulty breathing. Steer clear of this creature by avoiding tidal rock pools. If someone is bitten, you should call the emergency number 000 immediately.
There are many types of sharks in Australian oceans. Most are harmless to humans. Many people are fearful of sharks, however, they are an important part of the marine ecosystem. Realistically there are far fewer deaths from shark attack than there are from drownings caused by people getting caught in rip currents.
To minimise your chances of bumping into a shark on your beach visit, avoid swimming at dawn and dusk; don’t swim at river mouths and murky water; and steer clear of swimming around schools of fish.
Jellyfish – or non-tropical ‘stingers’ – are another common animal with whom we share the ocean. Some jellyfish can give you a nasty sting if you come into contact with them. The severity of the sting will vary, depending on the type of jellyfish. Making sure you swim at a patrolled beach will decrease your chances of becoming stung, as beaches are generally closed if there are a lot of stingers in the water. If you are stung by a jellyfish, remove the remaining tentacles and apply ice.
For more information on non-tropical stingers, check out the Beachsafe website.
Tropical waters north of Bundaberg in Queensland and Geralton in Western Australia are home to some of the most dangerous marine stingers in the world. Tropical stingers like the Box Jellyfish and the Irukandji have powerful toxic stings that are extremely painful and cause serious illness and sometimes death. Beaches in these northern regions are closely monitored for the presence of these dangerous jellyfish. Make sure your pay attention to signage and only swim at patrolled beaches.
If you are stung by a tropical stinger, make sure your call 000 immediately as it may be a life threatening situation. Treat the sting by pouring vinegar onto the affected area to neutralise the sting until help arrives.
The Beachsafe website has more information about tropical stingers, including video and images to help you identify them.
Here are a few tips to help you enjoy a day at the beach safely:
For more beach safety tips, visit Surf Lifesaving Australia.
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged. The main cause of skin cancers in Australia is too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. In some areas of Australia the levels of ultraviolet radiation are high enough to damage your skin all year round, so it’s important to be aware and protect yourself.
Whenever you’re out in the sun, cover as much of your skin as possible with clothing. Loose clothes, made of cotton are comfortable to wear and allow the skin to breathe. There are certain types of clothing and swimwear that have an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) that will further reduce your exposure. Just search online for ‘sun safe clothing in Australia’ to find brands and stockists near you.
It’s important to protect your eyes as well. Wear sunglasses that protect the side of your eye and fit closely on your face. Protecting your eyes from sun damage can prevent the formation of cataracts and other conditions. Make sure your glasses meet the Australian standard AS/NZS 1067:2003 and have an eye protection factor (EPF) of 10.
Always apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside in the sun. A product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher is best. You should always reapply every two hours, or sooner if you are swimming or sweating. When buying sunscreen look for an ‘Aust L’ number on the label to make sure the product has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. A water resistant product is best.
Keeping your face, ears and neck shaded with a hat is an important part of your sun safety routine. It’s important to cover the top of your head too, as skin cancers are found there as well and can be difficult to identify as it’s not an easy place to look! For this reason, visors are not recommended, and caps are not ideal either as they do not protect the ears and neck. Choose a broad brimmed hat, with a brim at least 7.5cm wide.
Sun protection isn’t just for the beach or sunny days. It’s important to minimise exposure to ultraviolet radiation every day – even if it’s cloudy and even if you are just travelling to and from an office job. Every little bit of exposure adds up and contributes to cell damage. You might like to consider an everyday moisturizer that contains an SPF or you may choose to apply sunscreen every day as part of your daily routine.
Think about how you are protecting yourself from the sun every time you go outside, whether you are gardening, bushwalking, jogging, or even just taking the dog for a walk. Other handy tips are to keep spare hats and umbrellas in your car or bag and avoid outside activities during the middle of the day when ultraviolet radiation is at its highest.