South Walton officials warn spring breakers about beach safety

Hundreds of Portuguese Man O’ Wars covered beaches in South Walton over the weekend
Local beaches are attracting crowds as spring break kicks into high gear. But there are more dangers than just rip currents and sunburns.
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 8:18 PM CDT
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WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Nothing ruins a trip to the beach like a run-in with a sea creature!

“The ones we’re worried about are the Portuguese Man O’ Wars,” South Walton Fire District Beach Safety Director David Vaughan said.

They look like balloon-type objects and can be mistaken for jellyfish. SWFD officials said hundreds of them washed ashore and could be seen in the water.

“They had been littering the beaches up and down all 26 miles, but it really kind of already abated a bit,” Vaughan said.

The SWFD Beach Safety Director said people ran into more Man O’ Wars than usual because of a recent storm.

“They’re wind riders,” Vaughan said. “When storms blow in, they’re just riding on top of the wind. They just go with the current and the wind pushes them in.”

They can sting if you step on one when they land on shore, but you really don’t want to encounter one while swimming.

“When people are out in the water, that’s when they’ll wrap themselves [around you,]” Vaughan said. “The tentacles will wrap themselves around you. That’s the really bad stings.”

He said it’s recommended to treat the sting with hot water.

“That helps break down the enzymes on the base of it.”

Beach safety leaders also want swimmers to stay aware of other dangers while at the beach.

“Respect this Gulf because it can change quickly,” Vaughan said. “Just because you think you can swim to the second sand bar and touch, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not 7-8 feet deep.”

South Walton Fire District officials also encourage the public to establish a meeting spot when heading to the beach. This can be anything from a flagpole to a large sign.

“If something unfortunately does happen, they can give EMS and our lifeguards a good point of location to get to,” Vaughan said.

Another marine hydrozoan called “By-the-Sea Sailors” also washed ashore. However, they don’t sting.

You should also understand the Beach Flag Warning System.

Red Flags mean stay out of the water. Double Red means beaches are closed to swimmers. Yellow Flags mean swim with caution. Purple Flags indicate dangerous sea life such as Man O’ Wars may be seen more often than usual.