Okinawa Beach Dangers You Need to Take Seriously


Though Okinawa’s beaches are generally safe, there are some important dangers to be aware of and certain precautions to take.

The safety issues to be aware of when going to beaches in Okinawa are:

  1. Dangerous Marine Life in Okianw (Venomous)
  2. Dangerous Marine Life in Okinawa (Non-Venomous)
  3. Staying Safe from Dangerous Marine Life
  4. UV Rays are Stronger in Okinawa than Mainland Japan
  5. Coral Reef
  6. Slippery Steps & Concrete Entrances
  7. Tides in Okinawa
  8. Rip Currents
  9. Dehydration

Dangerous Marine Life in Okinawa (Venomous)

There are quite a few number of sea creatures in Okinawa that have the capacity to inflict some intense pain. Let’s first start with the most dangerous: venomous.

Lionfish

Lionfish contain a number of spines surrounding their entire body which they use for defense against predators. The spines on the lionfish are fed venom

through 2 glands. When the spines puncture predators (or your skin!), the venom is pushed through the spines

and into its victim.

The venom can cause intense pain and sweating. How long and how strong is heavily dependent on your sensitivity to the venom and how many of the spines got you.

For help treating a lionfish sting, lionfish.co has a very detailed description, which I summarized below:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Gently remove any spines that may have broken off
  3. Flush the wound with fresh water and clean with antiseptic towels and antibiotic cream
  4. Control any bleeding with direct pressure
  5. Soak the wound in hot water (100 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit) which neutralizes and breaks down the protein-based venom.
  6. Seek medical attention who will provide you with pain medication and monitor for any complications that may not be apparent to you.

Box Jellyfish

The box jellyfish’s venom is one of the most deadly in the world. Pain can last for weeks and even worse, some humans have gone into shock and drowned; some have died of heart failure.

 

Box jellyfish are more common in Okinawa when the sea temperatures get warm (May to October). They can also be found in deep or shallow waters, hanging out near the surface.

Though the box jellyfish, is big (up to 10 feet including their 15 tentacles), they are still semitransparent like other jellyfish, which means they can be difficult to spot.

Unlike most jellyfish who just go with the flow of the ocean, box jellyfish have the ability to control their movement and can move up to 4.5 mph!

According to webmd, if you’re stung you should:

  1. Call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)
  2. Get out of the water, do not rub the area
  3. Rinse the area with vinegar (do not use alcohol to clean the area)
  4. Remove the tentacles

Erabu Black-banded Sea Krait

This sea krait has venom that is 10 times more powerful than a rattlesnake. Yikes!

The good news is that bites are very rare. The sea krait is not aggressive and will only bite when it feels that it’s under threat.

It’s a common rumor that sea kraits can’t open their jaws wide enough to bite humans, however it’s more than able to do so.

Most reports of bites have come from fishermen who were unaware the krait was caught in their net when pulled up onto the boat. They either tried to free it by hand and got bit, or just didn’t see it.

In the rare chance, you’re bitten, initially, there are no symptoms or pain. To be safe, you should assume venom was injected, and that it was a black-banded sea krait.

You should seek medical attention immediately. Here are other important recommendations while on the way to get medical attention.

Stonefish

The stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world and one of the best at camouflage. It looks exactly how it sounds, and blends in with other rocks or coral, or covers itself with sand, making it mostly impossible to spot.

The stonefish injects its venom from one of the 13 spines on it’s back. Usually, victims accidentally step on the fish, which causes the spines to penetrate the skin and inject venom.

If stung, the pain is immediate and intense. Swelling is likely to happen, and sometimes the entire limb can experience swelling. Muscle numbness and trouble breathing may occur if you do not receive medical attention quickly.

According to paradisefirstaid.com, if stung follow these steps:

  1. Call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)
  2. Do not remove any spines
  3. Soak the area in water as hot as the person can tolerate no longer than 30 minutes
  4. Assist with breathing if the person is unresponsive or not breathing normally

Cone Shell

The cone shell has a very impressive and quite sophisticated way of injecting venom into its prey. It has a harpoon-like protrusion which it shoots from its mouth and into its prey.

 

The venom also contains pain-killing properties, which can make it hard to be aware that you’ve been hit.

Cone shells are non-aggressive towards humans, and most encounters are accidental; either by stepping on them or when collecting shells.

Though death isn’t common, the venom is highly toxic and has the potential to kill humans.

The sting can cause intense pain and muscle numbness. To make it even more concerning, symptoms don’t always begin immediately, and in some cases, symptoms don’t start to appear until days later.

According to webmd.com, if you’re stung, follow these steps:

  1. Call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)
  2. Soak the area in water as hot as the person can tolerate
  3. Use pressure immobilization techniques
  4. Avoid moving
  5. Use CPR and/or assist with breathing if necessary
  6. Do not cut into the wound and apply suction or a tourniquet

Scorpion Fish

The scorpionfish is very similar to the stonefish, however, the scorpionfish is less venomous. Don’t be fooled though, its sting is plenty painful.

Scorpionfish are more skittish than stonefish. Stonefish are more likely to stay put or move away slowly when approached, while scorpionfish will swim away fairly quickly.

The same steps as treating a stonefish sting are recommended:

  1. Call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)
  2. Do not remove any spines
  3. Soak the area in water as hot as the person can tolerate no longer than 30 minutes
  4. Assist with breathing if the person is unresponsive or not breathing normally

Cockatoo Waspfish

These guys usually hang out on the Ocean floor and look very similar to a leaf from a tree. They can’t swim very well, but they can pack a mean venomous sting. The venom is injected into its victims by the spines on its back.

 

Cockatoo waspfish are non-aggressive and really aren’t that great at swimming. They stay true to their leaf-like nature, and mostly just go with the flow. As a result, most victims get stung by stepping on one of these little guys.

Cockatoo waspfish are usually found in shallow waters and are under 6 inches in length.

I found very little information on how to treat a cockatoo waspfish sting. In one book, “Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea,” it lumped all scorpionfish together (which this fish falls under). So, according to this book, it’s the same treatment as a scorpionfish and stonefish:

  1. Call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)
  2. Do not remove any spines
  3. Soak the area in water as hot as the person can tolerate no longer than 30 minutes
  4. Assist with breathing if the person is unresponsive or not breathing normally

Spiny Devilfish

The spiny devilfish is a type of stonefish. Just like the stonefish, it has several spines along its back that deliver a very painful and sometimes lethal sting.

If stung, treatment is similar to stonefish:

  1. Call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)
  2. Do not remove any spines
  3. Soak the area in water as hot as the person can tolerate no longer than 30 minutes
  4. Assist with breathing if the person is unresponsive or not breathing normally

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish

The sharp, distinct spines of the crown-of-thorns starfish should deter most ocean goers. And those who come in contact either on purpose or by accident will quickly learn the sharp spines deliver a painful and potentially dangerous sting.

Crown-of-thorns starfish hang out on the coral which they also eat. They can have as many as 16, 2-inch spines, which cover the top part of its body.

People stung usually report severe pain, swelling, and itching. More severe reactions including muscle numbness, vomiting, and paralysis.

According to webmd, if you’re stung, you should:

  1. Soak the area in water as hot as the person can tolerate for 30 to 90 minutes
  2. Remove any remaining spines with tweezers (symptoms will persist if spines remain)
  3. Clean the wound with soap and water and rinse with saltwater
  4. Seek medical attention as soon as possible

Fire Coral

Though Fire Coral implies this creature is actually coral and even though it looks like coral, it’s actually more closely related to jellyfish or sea anemones than anything else.

To feel the pain fire coral has to offer, all you need to do brush up against it. Victims who brush up against fire coral will notice a sting within a few minutes to a half-hour. The burning sensation can last several hours and is commonly accompanied by a skin rash.

According to liveabout.com, follow the steps below if you’re stung:

  1. Rinse with seawater. Avoid rinsing with fresh water as it will increase the sting.
  2. Soak with vinegar or isopropyl alcohol
  3. Remove any remaining tentacles using tweezers
  4. Avoid moving the are stung, to prevent the venom from spreading
  5. Use hydrocortisone for itching. Stop using if there are signs of infection.
  6. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience shortness of breath, swelling of the tongue, face, or throat, or any signs of an allergic reaction.

Blue-Ringed Octopus

The blue-ringed octopus is highly venomous and is one the most dangerous animals found in Okinawa. It’s pretty small, usually, 8 inches in diameter with its tentacles extended.

Though the blue-ringed octopus uses its venom mostly to hunt prey, it’s known to bite out of self-defense. Though it’s considered non-aggressive, you should still maintain your distance.

Human victims bitten (which is how it injects its venom) can experience muscle numbness, nausea, vision loss, and loss of motor skills. Muscles that control breathing can be paralyzed, leading to death.

Luckily, bites are rare and most bites occur due to accidental contact with the octopus.

According to emedicinehealth.com, if bitten follow these steps:

  1. Call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)
  2. While waiting for emergency services:
    1. Use pressure immobilization techniques
    2. Use mouth-to-mouth ventilation if the person has difficulty breathing

Fire Urchin

The Fire Urchin is very beautiful but quite dangerous and you should keep your distance.

The Fire Urchin injects its venom in one of two ways: its spines and from its hundreds of jaws. Both of these methods can easily penetrate skin.

The painful sting is immediate and the venom can lead to paralysis and in some cases death. Also, because of the number of spines and jaws, it can inject quite a bit of venom into its victims.

Treatment for Fire Urchin was difficult to find. But, because of the possible lethal dangers of this creature, it’s best to seek medical treatment immediately:

  • Call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)

Multiple sources I read said that you should be careful removing the spines yourself as they can easily break and be left under the skin. Safest to leave it up to the doctor.

Flower Urchin

Flower urchins don’t have the typical spikey look of other sea urchins, and with its flowery look, may tempt naive divers or snorkelers into touching it. This, of course, is a bad idea.

Instead of spines to inject venom, flower urchins have small claws that attach to its victims and inject venom.

The sting is instant and the venom can cause paralysis and difficulty breathing. In some cases, stings can be deadly.

Treatment specific to the Flower Urchin was difficult to find. Because of the dangers of paralysis and breathing difficulty, it’s wisest to seek medical attention immediately:

  • Call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)

Bristle Worm (Fireworm)

The bristle worm, which is also known as the fireworm contains tons of hallow bristles or spines that are serrated at their edges. When the worm feels threatened, it will extend its bristles, making it more likely the victim will be stung.

If stung, it’s common to feel burning or numbness. It’s also common to experience swelling and redness.

According to webmd.com, if you’re stung, you should:

  1. Soak with vinegar or isopropyl alcohol
  2. Remove the bristles/spines with tweezers or using tape
  3. Apply hydrocortisone cream for burning and inflammation
  4. Monitor for signs of infection; seek medical attention immediately if there are signs of infection
  5. Never a bad idea to visit your doctor either way!

Eeltail Catfish

Eeltail catfish can get up to 12 inches in length. They can sometimes be mistaken for eels due to the shape of their tails. Larger eeltail catfish are usually found in deeper waters, while juveniles can be found around shallow seagrass and coral areas.

The eeltail catfish has one spine on the fin on it’s back, and one spine on each of its side fins.

According to liveabout.com, if stung:

  1. Get out of the water right away
  2. Soak the area in water as hot as the person can tolerate
  3. It’s best to seek medical attention even if there are no signs of infection or more serious reactions.

Sea Anemones

Sea anemones have venomous tentacles and are closely related to jellyfish. The tentacles inject venom using a harpoon-like spine. Stings are most common when diving or if a sea anemone is washed up on shore or shallow waters.

Victims stung can experience extreme pain, swelling, itching. In more severe cases, chest pain and difficulty breathing can happen.

According to dovemed.com, if stung you should:

  1. Remove spines using tweezers and being careful not to break them
  2. Clean the wound with seawater
  3. Use hydrocortisone cream
  4. If there are more severe reactions call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)

Stingrays

Stingrays aren’t aggressive and most stings happen by accident. Though they generally don’t attack, the sting can be powerful.

Stingrays deliver their stings from their long, thin, whip-like tail. The end of their tails contain barbed spines that contain powerful venom. When they feel threatened, they can quickly whip their long tails in any direction.

When stung, victims will feel severe pain immediately. In some cases, people may experience muscle numbness and have difficulty breathing.

According to heathline.com, if stung you should:

  1. Unless stung in a critical area (throat, neck, chest, etc.) attempt to pull the barb out while in the water.
  2. Allow the seawater to clean the wound and apply pressure to release as much venom as possible
  3. Clean any other debris in the wound
  4. Soak the area in water as hot as the person can tolerate
  5. Apply antibiotic cream to the wound and cover it
  6. If you experience severe symptoms, call emergency services immediately (118 for Japan Coast Guard and 098-911-1911 for SOFA)

Rabbitfish

Rabbitfish can get up to 6-inches long and have a number of venomous spines along its back. It uses these spines for self-defense.

The sting can be very painful, but generally, death is not common.

According to okinawanaturephotography.com, if stung you should:

  1. Wash the area with soap and freshwater
  2. Remove any debris or spines
  3. Soak the area in water as hot as the person can tolerate no longer than 30 minutes
  4. Seek immediate medical treatment

Dangerous Marine Life in Okinawa (Non-Venomous)

Moray Eels

Moray eels can be found tucked away in the coral in shallow waters. It can deliver a very serious bite due to its strong jaws and sharp teeth. Sometimes they’ll bite and not let go.

Besides the pain, the other risk is infection after the bite.

If bitten, it’s best to get seen by a doctor as soon as possible to decrease the chance of infection.

Sea Urchin

Sea urchins can be found in shallow waters and sometimes above water during low tide when certain parts of the reef are exposed.

Sea urchins are covered in spines, which can easily penetrate your skin. The most common encounters happen by accidentally stepping on them.

It’s common for the spines to break off and be left under the skin. It’s best to see a doctor to minimize the risk of infection.

Needlefish

Needlefish are found near the surface of the water and are very common to see in shallow waters. They have a very thin beak and razor-sharp teeth that can easily penetrate skin.

Most needlefish I see are fairly small, around 6 inches and fairly thin, but every once in awhile I’ll see a nice sized one.

Needlefish can travel at very fast speeds, and do so when trying to feed on smaller fish. Though they are generally non-aggressive towards humans, accidental encounters are not unheard of when a needlefish unintentionally swims into its victim.

If you’re injured, it’s best to get out of the water, control any bleeding and see a doctor to minimize the risk of infection.

Tips to stay safe from dangerous sea life:

  1. Keep your hands to yourself. It’s just better to play it safe and assume what you’re tempted to touch is dangerous
  2. If you must touch it, be 110% sure it’s not dangerous (above is not a comprehensive list, by the way
  3. It’s best to avoid walking on the bottom of the ocean or on coral whenever possible. Not only to protect the coral, but to protect yourself from unknown critters.
  4. If/when you must put your feet down on the bottom, shuffle your feet and be sure to wear water shoes or booties to help protect your feet.
  5. Always swim with a partner; never swim alone.
  6. In Okinawa, there are a number of beaches with jellyfish nets during the summer. These areas are designated for swimming and have nets that protect against jellyfish and other dangerous marine life. They usually have lifeguards on duty, as well.

UV Rays are Stronger in Okinawa than Mainland Japan

The closer you get to the equator, the closer the sun is to the earth’s surface. In addition, the ozone layer, which is a friendly filter between you and the sun, gets thinner as you get closer to the equator.

Okinawa is about 1,811 miles from the equator, which doesn’t sound very close, but it’s far closer to the equator than it is to the North pole (4,408 miles) or South pole (8,031 miles).

This means UV rays here are stronger than most other places in the world.

In addition to Okinawa’s proximity to the equator, when UV rays bounce off surfaces like pavement and water (both of which Okinawa has a lot of), you’re exposed to more UV rays at one time.

Most people just think of their skin when thinking about UV rays. But, UV can wreak havoc on your eyes too. Especially at the beach.

If you’re on the beach for longer periods, you’re at risk of getting a sunburn on your cornea. Ouch. Also, long-term exposure to UV rays can lead to vision loss and cataracts down the road.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to mitigate all of these UV risks in Okinawa.

Tips for staying safe from Okinawa’s harsh UV rays:

  1. Generally, UV rays are at their worst between noon and 4 pm. So, either stay out of the sun as much as possible during these times, or double up on sun protection.
  2. Clouds can be misleading. Just because there is cloud cover, doesn’t mean you’re protected. And in fact, clouds can sometimes magnify UV rays.
  3. Wear a wide brim hat that covers your face, head, ears, and neck.
  4. Consider wearing long sleeves. There are tons of light, long sleeve options out there. Though it may not be as stylish as short sleeves or your shirt off, your skin will love you.
  5. Consider wearing a neck gaiter. Not the best fashion statement, but the good thing about Okinawa, is people don’t care. Okinawans are very practical and all about covering up from the sun.
  6. Wear sunglasses every day.
  7. And…of course…wear sunscreen. Here is a helpful video on choosing the right sunscreen:

Coral Reef

Coral reef can be dangerous for a couple of reasons: some will sting you and the reef can be razor-sharp.

Tips to stay safe from coral reef:

  1. Don’t touch the coral reef. It’s not only hazardous to you, but it’s also fragile and important for the environment.
  2. Wear booties to protect your feet when entering and exiting the water.
  3. Never jump in water headfirst (even feet first). Even if the water is clear, judging the depth is very difficult to do.
  4. If you get cut, it’s important that you clean it to prevent infection. According to emedicinehealth:
    1. Scrub with soap and water, then flush with fresh water.
    2. Rise with vinegar or isopropyl alcohol if the cut stings.
    3. Flush the cut with 50% water and 50% hydrogen peroxide, which will remove any coral debris.
    4. Rinse the cut daily and use antibiotic ointment 3 to 4 times/day.
    5. If there are any signs of infection, seek immediate medical attention.

Slippery Steps Concrete Entrances

Places along seawalls often have steps to enter the water. Though it’s very convenient, algae builds-up quick and thick, which makes it extremely slippery.

It’s not rare to see someone fall when walking down the steps. This is very common for the unsuspecting tourist, but because it’s so slippery, locals and long-timers aren’t immune from falling.

Algae isn’t always easy to spot, but if the area is wet or even damp, it’s very likely there is algae, and it’s very likely it will be slippery.

Tips to stay safe from slippery steps:

  1. Assume each step will be slippery
  2. Try to step on lighter-colored areas. Black or dark areas of the concrete is usually a sign of algae
  3. Sit and scoot down the steps when entering the water

Tides in Okinawa

Tides are the rising and falling of the sea level at a current location. The tide is always moving up or down, no matter where you are. In general, you’ll get one high tide and one low tide each day.

The time of high and low tide changes every day, and so does the level tides.

A spring tide (occurs during full moon and new moon) means there’s a bigger difference between the high and low tide. In Okinawa, this difference can be as much as 6 feet!

Since there is a bigger difference, it means the tide changes quickly.

A neap tide (occurs during first and third quarter moon) is when there is a smaller difference between the two tides. This means there is less level movement throughout the day.

Dangers from tides in Okinawa:

Swimming Against the Tide

First, if the tide is going down, it’s going to be harder to swim back to shore. And, in general, a spring tide that is going down, is going to be harder. This is because there will be more water moving away from shore, which you have to swim against. How fast the water is moving away from shore will vary for each location and the ocean conditions for that day.

Walking on Razor-Sharp Coral Reef

Second, because almost all spots in Okinawa are coral bottom (that are razor-sharp), entering and exiting the water becomes difficult, if not impossible, during low tide.

This is especially problematic when you enter the water during a higher tide and then the tide becomes too low, while you’re in the water. If this happens, you’ll be forced to walk across the razor-sharp reef.

This picture was taken during low tide at Sunabe, Okinawa, Japan. The reef exposed in the picture is completely underwater during high tide, and deep enough to swim.

Getting Cut Off by High Tide

Lastly, in certain areas, there can be a risk of being cut off by the high tide. There are many situations where this can occur.

Take for example, the photo above. If the man in the picture was walking further away from the camera and the tide came up, the water would leave him stranded in the middle of the reef with water on all sides.

Cliffs are another area to be aware of. Perhaps during low tide, there is an easy entrance to the water below of cliff. During high tide, the water breaks against the cliff itself. Unless you’re a rock climber, you’re not getting out!

Tips to stay safe from tides:

  1. Always know what the tide is before you go swimming or even near the ocean. You can check that here: Tide Forecast
  2. Be aware of your surroundings. Locate 2 safe exit points before entering the water.
  3. Go to areas with long, straight stretches of shoreline to prevent getting cut off by high-tide
  4. Become familiar with specific locations’ highest high tide, and lowest low tide before you go out. or go with someone who knows the spot well.
  5. Wear booties in case you’re forced to walk on sharp coral.

Rip Currents

Rip currents (often mistakenly called “riptides” or “undertows”) is a section of water that is moving away from the beach or shore, out into the ocean.

These currents can be moving fast too. Sometimes at speeds of 5 mph (8 kph); the average swimmer swims at 2 mph (3 kph). That means you can be attempting to swim to shore at full speed, and still be moving quickly away from shore.

Rip currents are particularly dangerous because they can be hard to spot, and if you’re not paying attention, they can pull you out very quickly.

Rip currents are also very common. They happen in calm or stormy weather.

Tips to stay safe from rip currents:

  1. If you’re going to get in the water, never go alone.
  2. Always enter the water where there are many people nearby.
  3. Always pay attention to your location in the water by using landmarks. Look back to shore regularly to judge your position in the water.
  4. If you get caught by a rip current:
    1. Stay calm
    2. Resist your instinct to swim directly to shore. Remember the more you fight it, the worse off you’ll be: more tired and still not any closer to shore.
    3. Swim parallel to shore until you’re out of the current (typically rip currents aren’t very wide, 30 feet to 200 feet wide).

Dehydration

Keeping hydrated is especially important in Okinawa because of heat and humidity.

Did you know that high humidity can make it harder for your body to cool itself down?

Yes, that’s right. Though it may make sense that more water in the air means more water to cool down your body, this isn’t the case.

First, when humidity is high, the temperature feels hotter than it actually is. So, your body needs to work harder to keep it cool.

Second, your body cools itself sending water out your skin (sweat) and as it evaporates, it cools your body down. However, if the humidity is high (lots of moisture in the air), your sweat doesn’t evaporate and your body doesn’t cool down. So, your body pumps out even more sweat.

This means you need more water than usual.

To make things even worse, when you swim in the ocean, it’s impossible not to ingest some of the saltwater. And because the ocean has a high concentration of salt (much more than our bodies need), your body is forced to get rid of it.

Your body gets rid of excess salt by flushing it out with urine, which requires…you guessed it, more water.

All of this is a recipe for dehydration. So how do we prevent it?

Tips to prevent dehydration at the beach:

  1. Avoid alcohol
  2. Drink plenty of water before you get to the beach
  3. Bring plenty of water and sip it regularly while at the beach
  4. Find shade and take a break regularly
  5. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (which all contain water and will help with hydration)
  6. Bring an ice chest to keep food and water cool

Conclusion

Though there are quite a few things to be aware of, it’s important to remember that Okinawa beaches are generally just as safe as any other beach in the world.

Most beachgoers in Okinawa have no issues spending a day at the beach snorkeling and sunbathing, with the biggest risk being a sunburn.

So, just be aware of the above, do a little safety planning, and enjoy yourself at the beach in Okinawa!

 

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