Florida's beaches are often synonymous with paradise. But beneath the idyllic surface, sometimes a darker reality lurks. We're talking flesh-eating bacteria, hidden predators, and even an invasion of slimy seaweed.
Take a look at these crazy stories from the shores of Florida that range from tragic to downright gross. You'll think twice about taking a dip after understanding the health hazards and safety risks you’d never expect from these coastal spots:
1. Hookworm Horror at Pompano Beach
When 17-year-old Michael went on a church trip to Florida, he and his friends decided to bury each other in the sand at Pompano Beach. This innocent fun soon turned into a parasitic nightmare.
After leaving the beach, Michael began experiencing severe lethargy, sweating, and intense itching that persisted back home in Memphis. What seemed like a passing ear infection was diagnosed as hookworms — contractible from larva in contaminated sand — evidenced then by disturbing skin abrasions across Michael's body.
Now stuck sick at home on medications, the invasive infection spread, required daily bleach baths to treat secondary staph infection. Five other boys burying Michael also tested positive for hookworms.
The haunted beach trip resulted not just in traumatic stress for Michael's family but also unexpected medical bills stacking over $2500. Thankfully, Michael has recovered, and his family has since contacted Florida health authorities to address the incident.
Save your time and money by avoiding these Florida beaches in our list: 6 Florida Beaches That Disappoint Tourists Every Year
2. Florida Surfer's Close Call with a Shark
Imagine surfing peacefully at Pepper Park Beach when, suddenly, a shark takes a bite out of your foot. That's what happened to Matt Picarelli, a 36-year-old surfer. A shark appeared out of nowhere, bit his foot, and disappeared, leaving him in shock.
Strangers rushed to help Matt, who had to endure 50 stitches, a broken tendon, and a chipped bone. Despite recurring nightmares, he remains positive, acknowledging that surfers risk encountering sharks in their territory. Matt's determined to get back in the water soon.
3. Bathtub Beach Tragedy
A heartbreaking tragedy unfolded at Bathtub Beach in Stuart as the lifeless body of 17-year-old Nick Lovensen Alincy was recovered after an exhaustive 24-hour search.
According to witnesses, Nick was pulled five miles south from Sea Turtle Beach to Bathtub Beach after being caught in the surf one Monday morning.
Nick, a student at St. Lucie West Centennial High School, is remembered as a vibrant presence in the lives of those who knew him, with the school now providing grief counselors to help students cope with the overwhelming grief.
4. Sarasota Red Tide Devastation
Dead fish and the stench of algae blooms have become a common sight along Florida's west coast beaches. Sarasota County was hit hard, as Lido Beach was virtually empty in the summer of 2023 despite warm sunshine that would normally draw large crowds.
The few people who ventured out to enjoy the pleasant weather soon turned back with complaints of coughing fits, put off by fish kill lining the shores and the overwhelming smell permeating the air. One Redditor shared that these horrible smells and views are visible several blocks away from the beach.
Local recreational businesses designed to show off the area's natural beauty have also taken a major hit, missing out on profits they rely on during what should be their busiest season.
Guides and rental services face slow days and concerned customers canceling trips, leading to worries about financial impacts extending well beyond the persistence of the continuing red tide along area beaches and waterways.
5. Flesh-eating Bacteria on the rise in Florida Beaches
Florida beaches posed health risks during Labor Day 2023 weekend following a rainy summer. Multiple beaches tested positive for dangerous levels of fecal bacteria contamination in August.
While most have been deemed safe, the heavy rains from Hurricane Idalia could have reintroduced contaminants. More alarmingly, state health officials report five deaths this year linked to Vibrio vulnificus, a rare flesh-eating bacteria.
Twenty-six cases of infection from this bacteria have been confirmed statewide, including one in Broward County, leading to five deaths. Beachgoers are advised to avoid swimming near piers or after storms due to contamination risks and to watch out for dangerous rip currents that increase drowning hazards.
6. Key West's $20 Million Seaweed Problem
An influx of smelly, brown seaweed called sargassum is washing up on beaches from Montego to Miami, marring prime tourist destinations. The algae release a rotten egg odor as it decays, causing nausea, headaches, and aggravation of respiratory issues in some cases.
A 2020 study found 1 in 10 tourists would cancel or reschedule trips to Key West if sargassum is present, posing a potential $20 million hit to the tourism industry. Removal efforts are costly too — Miami-Dade County is requesting $2 million more on top of the $3.9 million spent last year.
With few environmentally sound disposal options, businesses and visitors alike are impacted. Researcher Brian Barnes advises tourists not to cancel plans but to pick less affected beaches, as the seaweed presence is highly localized. Companies aim creative solutions like sinking the sargassum for its carbon capture benefits.
For alternate Florida beach destinations, check out our list: 12 Beaches to Witness Florida’s Best Sunrises and Sunsets
Enjoy Florida's Beaches Safely
While the unfortunate events detailed may seem alarming, there’s no need to avoid Florida’s beautiful beaches entirely. By taking proper precautions, you can still make fun memories along the coast.
Check beach safety reports before visiting and avoid going in the water if bacteria levels are high or shortly after major storms. When swimming, don’t venture out too far and stick to lifeguard-protected areas. Also, thoroughly wash wounds with soap after beach trips.
To prevent seaweed nuisance or rip current risks, opt for beaches with containment efforts or warning systems in place. Consider more protected spots like hotel coves rather than city pier areas.
While occasional shark bites or red tide blooms garner headlines, these remain statistically rare occurrences that shouldn’t deter beach lovers. Simply be aware of surroundings when surfing or snorkeling.
By making practical choices, reviewing safety resources, and not letting isolated incidents breed excessive fear, you can continue enjoying Florida’s beautiful beaches and make great memories along the coast. The views and sunshine are worth it.