Thursday, May 24, 2007

New Book for Curious Beachcombers!

Ever been browsing in your favorite bookstore and find a book that you just HAD TO HAVE RIGHT NOW?

Today I was in the local Barnes & Noble, looking over the Florida books and planning my next kayak trip and just generally looking to see if anything new has come out. I was about to leave when my eyes landed on a very colorful book placed way down on the bottom shelf. Florida's Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber, by Blair and Dawn Witherington is an absolute must-have for beachcombers.

Do you take your kids to the beach, and every 30 seconds they are running up to you with a new shell or strange piece of flotsam or jetsam they've found, saying "Hey Mom, hey Dad, what's this?" Well now you can just hand them this book and say "look it up and let me know what you find out!"

It has a color photo of everything. A total of 985 color images, 431 maps, and descriptive accounts of 822 items that you may encounter on the Florida beaches or in the nearby waters.

Here's a partial list of what you will find in the book:
Beach physical features (dunes, sea foam, tides, waves, currents, weather, red tide)
Beach Animals (sponges, jellies, hydroids, anemones, corals, shells, crabs, fish, birds, mammals, tunicates)
Beach Plants
Beach rocks and minerals
Manmade stuff that washes up (sound boring? It isn't, trust me)

Blair is a research scientist with the FWC Fish & Wildlife Research Institute and Dawn is a graphic design artist and scientific illustrator. They really know their stuff.

I paid $21.95 for the book and it was a real bargain, with all those color photos. It is in 6 X 9 format with 326 glossy color pages. Too big to stick in your pocket, but just right to put in your beach bag or backpack. It's a softcover, but the cover is extra thick and glossy with French flaps. Mine is going to get some serious use, I can tell you that for sure.

It is available on, Barnes & Noble, the Pineapple Press website, and many other online and offline book stores.

The book is not a complete and exhaustive scientific catalogue of every species that you could encounter. Such a book would be too large and heavy. It does have nearly everything you will encounter.

Don't go to the beach without it.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Forbes Traveler Annual "Scary Beach" Article

Well it's beach season again. Time for spooky stories in the mainstream media about killer sharks, deadly jellyfish, etc. Why do we like to scare ourselves so much?

Forbes Traveler has come out with a suitably scary article in its online magazine about the top "10 Shark Infested Beaches." At least they do point out that the danger from sharks is much less than the dangers from bees, wasps, snakes, and drowning.

Here is the list, according to the author of the article, Adrian Lurssen:

Kosi Bay, South Africa
Gansbaai, South Africa (east of Capetown)
Brisbane, Australia
Bolinas Beach, California (north of San Francisco in Marin County)
New Smyrna Beach, Florida (shark attack capital of the world)
Umhlanga Rocks, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa
North Shore, Oahu
Recife, Brazil
Kahana, West Maui, Hawaii
West End, Grand Bahama Island

Why are there more shark bites at these beaches than others?

Simple. The main reason is that there are more people in the water at these beaches.
A second reason is that some of the beaches are near waters where there are large
populations of seals which attract large sharks. A surfer paddling a surfboard looks a lot like a seal when viewed from below.

The author of the article notes that West End, Bahama Island made the list even though it has only had 4 unprovoked shark bites since 1749, none fatal. But that's still "more than all others in the Bahamas." Not very scary.

New Smyrna, Florida has lots of small bites from blacktip and spinner sharks, usually to the hands or feet of surfers. Surfers usually find themselves in rough, murky water. Sharks don't see well in murky water, but they feed actively in the surf zone. Sometimes they grab a hand or foot. Usually they let go when they realize it isn't a fish. For more detailed info on shark bites in Florida, download my free ebook on beach safety from

In 2005, Forbes interviewed me for an article on "Death Beaches." I gave a few tips for staying safe at the beach, and surprised the author when I told her that the biggest danger at the beach is drowning. Not sharks. Not jellyfish. Not stingrays.

But really, driving to the beach is the most dangerous act of all.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Treating a Jellyfish Sting--Ouch!

Anybody watch Oprah today? Her guest today was none other than Dr. Oz. He conducted a quiz about various health/medical topics to see how well the audience was informed. He asked this question:

What is the best cure for a jellyfish sting?

Multiple choice:
A. Urine
B. Meat tenderizer
C. Vinegar
D. Fresh water

Got any ideas? Urine? Meat tenderizer? Sound silly?

Actually all of the above have at one time or another been considered treatments for jellyfish stings.

Generally, the answer is C. In many cases, according to people who study these things, vinegar is the probably the most helpful thing to put on a jellyfish sting.

Urine has been shown not to be helpful. Meat tenderizer is a dubious treatment as well. Fresh water should never be put on a saltwater jellyfish sting. It makes whatever tentacles that are still stuck to your skin sting you even more. Rinse with sea water.

I've read that vinegar may help for some jellyfish stings, but should not be used on a Portuguese Man-of-war sting. For more info, visit my page on jellyfish , or download my free ebook on beach safety.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Smoky Beaches in Florida

Late Friday morning the smoke from the wildfires in Georgia and Florida has blanketed west central Florida, blotting out the sun and creating breathing difficulties for many people. The smoke has even drifted out over the beaches. The photo is of Upham Beach, on St. Pete Beach, a little after noon, May 11th. thanks to Ryan for sending me the link to this photo, which shows a lot more smoke on the beach than the photo I originally posted. My car had a light dusting of ash this morning. I think this is the worst I've seen this area affected by wildfire smoke. Still, we are not experiencing anything like the thick, dark smoke further north. If you are vacationing on the smoky beaches, a trip further south or to the Atlantic coast might be in order, just to get some clear air.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Weird Spring Weather in Florida

We've got an odd mix of weather going on in Florida now. On the west coast we have a cool northerly breeze, keeping the beach feeling like upper 70's, and off and on haze from the forest fires burning in Georgia and Northern Florida. In some parts of the state the smoke from the fires is thick and heavy, reminiscent of the big fires back in 1998. The Atlantic coast has been absolutely pounded by huge surf from a storm off the northeast coast. Major beach erosion has taken place on the Atlantic beaches.

On a brighter note, the Atlantic coast, particularly the Miami area has seen some of the most fantastic surfing opportunities ever.

Spring often brings windy tumultuous weather to Florida. It can be very unpredictable. But that just gets us prepared for the equally unpredictable hurricane season.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Shark bites man in Naples, Florida

It's not officially summer beach season yet, but we've already had a shark bite on the southwest Florida coast. Newspaper headlines say an older man staying at the Edgewater Beach Resort in Naples was bitten on the thigh while swimming "about 100 yards" off the beach.

Most people aren't very good at estimating distances, but I'll tell you, 100 yards is a really long way out. And the water was murky.

According to the article, the man felt something bump his leg, but he couldn't see anything because the water was so murky. He swam to shore and noticed a semi-circular bite mark on his thigh. He walked up the beach to get help and was taken to the hospital. One article said he had a serious bite wound, another article said it was a non life-threatening injury.

It was also noted that since 1882 there have only been 8 shark bites recorded in Collier County.

So what's the moral of this story? It's the one you don't see that gets you. Just advice has always been to swim near shore in clear water. Obviously the shark in this case let go as soon as it realized it didn't have a fish in its jaws. Being far out from shore in murky water is just a bit too chancy for me.

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