Seeing Past the Break
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
Any world traveler would be remised to not make a venture across the globe ride into Fernandina Beach and head for the dunes as soon as they unpack at the best little beach condo on Fletcher Avenue. As early as the birds are, no one finds the sea as soon as the morning fishermen.
American Beach sees their faces as early as the sun shines. The patience and skill they have attained over the years shows in their results. With a museum and the highest sand dune in the state of Florida, American Beach finds itself a sand-hidden gem among the stretch of coast that is Amelia Island. Go north and smaller beach accesses await. The tourism that helps sustain the island’s economy comes with a diverse group of people that desire different beach experiences. For those looking for a less crowded area, be careful which beach access you go to. There are several and if you take the time to scan the coast-line, chances are you will find just that. Trust a local. Keep going and scan until you find an empty spot.
Most areas of the island’s beaches are watched over by lifeguards in the peak hours of beach-goers attendance. If a lifeguard is not present, it’s a matter of coming back from the ocean or drowning to understand the indications that certain signs and flags represent. Flags indicate a number of things including the presence of a Rip Tide, creatures which might be harboring some unsavory intentions depending on the number of teeth they wield, and the degrees of caution to carry. PURPLE indicates Rip Tide. This is a strong current that results in a swimmer becoming trapped in the current unable to return to shore in a normal manner. If you find yourself caught in one of these currents (as they are very common), the most important thing to remember is not to panic. A day spent long in the sun and water will wear down the body’s energy level and muscle efficiency. Always keep yourself replenished with nutrients and hydrated as a rule. To escape the powerful tide, simply and calmly swim parallel to the shore. This puts you in a position to get out of the rip without having to fight it. Take deep, diaphragmatic breaths and try to relax while swimming parallel to the shore. Treat your escape to safe waters as you would fighting a fish on a deep sea adventure. Be patient.
RED flag means dangerous marine life. This can mean anything from sharks to jellyfish. Surfers working a 9-5 and looking to get in a few barrels as the sun rises and sets are those most at risk from our fearless finned friends. Contrary to many superstitions, it isn’t some interspecies conflict designed by nature. Simply put, peak hunting hour for our majestic sharks is dusk and dawn. While shark attacks are few and far between, I would encourage anyone heading out into the water at these times to exercise extreme caution.
Another indicator of large marine life is jumping fish- or bait fish. Despite their name, they have no desire to be bait. Therefore, they jump to escape a pursuer’s deadly chomp – most often unsuccessfully. They are small and silver. Be on the lookout! It would be very wise to actively avoid areas with large groups of jumping fish food. Given the fishing industry demand that requires supply even more so than the sportsman, there are areas off the beach that are purposefully baited. I would avoid these areas like the plaque. Many fishermen catch small sharks simply fishing from the shoreline. They come to the shallow waters quite often in those peak hours. Fortunately for me, the only shark I’ve been near was out of the water and on the end of my line. It was impressive to experience the sheer swimming power such a small dogfish shark could lay on the line.
On to our other friends, Jelly fish season is from for nearly the entire tourist season. If you have ever encountered one of these less than charming creeper-uppers and are like me, you probably found yourself taking on the form of an Olympic swimmer on speed! Adrenaline is particularly susceptible to the idea of the pain that comes along with making that new floating friend. Fear of any type of creature is only a result of not being able to communicate clearly and be able to predict its moment. Don’t pack your suitcase and head inland yet though. Lucky for you, you can predict the movements of a jelly. It’s a little bit of a relief to know that even in their abundance, they can be easily avoided in many instances. Large brown and pink jellies are visible from the water and only take little caution to avoid. They are slow moving and ride with the current. You can fairly easily forecast whether they are on a path to come in contact with you. Jellies that have been chopped up by waves are a little more fearsome as the smallest particle can cause painful stinging. The treatment for such a sting that’s more popular is – let’s say – unpleasant. But if you’ve stayed hydrated, the procedure should be very easy to complete!
We love to see our tourists – many of whom have become friends over the course of their annual excursions to Amelia – leave just as whole and safe as when they came. Keep your eyes alive and take notice of all the signs that may be posted at beach access points. They are there for all of our safety and have been a most effective protocol allowing all of us to enjoy the vast beaches we are fortunate enough to be blessed with watching over.