Interactive Website Shows Cleanest, Dirtiest European Beaches

beaches, Cyprus
Wikimedia Commons

It’s getting to be that time of year again. People are heading to the beaches, especially around the Mediterranean.

Now choosing one has been made easier by a new interactive website by the European Environment Agency. The agency has released its 2012 figures for water quality of 23,511 “bathing waters.” The website has them broken down by country and region. While most are beaches, popular inland swimming areas such as lakes are also included.

Some countries do better than others. Cyprus may be in economic doldrums, but 100% of their beaches have clean water. Slovenia, the subject of an upcoming series here on Gadling, gets equally high praise for its narrow strip of shoreline.

Scientists examined samples of water over several months in 2012, looking for evidence of pollution. It turns out 93 percent of sites had at least the minimum standard set by the European Union. The worst countries were Belgium, with 12 percent substandard swimming areas, and The Netherlands, with 7 percent.

Darwin Awards Contenders Foiled By Observant Cafe Customer

Darwin Awards
Four men who could have become strong candidates for this year’s Darwin Awards have been saved by a Good Samaritan who was enjoying some coffee nearby.

The BBC reports that a customer at a cafe in Oxwich Bay, Wales, spotted four men in a dinghy clutching onto a buoy and desperately trying to get the attention of those on shore.

It’s unclear if the men were consciously trying to win the Darwin Awards, given out every year for people who get killed in stupid ways and thus improve the gene pool of our species. Nevertheless, they proved their candidacy by setting out in an inflatable dinghy into worsening weather with no life jackets and no flares. Winds had reached up to force six on the Beaufort Scale by the time they were saved. Force six is just short of a gale, with waves rising up to 13 feet.

The person who spotted them alerted the coast guard, who sent out a lifeboat to save them. If it wasn’t for this observant coffee lover, these wannabe sailors may have replicated the famous “Raft of the Medusa,” being adrift at sea for weeks, slowly expiring from hunger and thirst until desperation led them to gnaw on one another to survive. It would have given a whole new meaning to the term “Welsh rarebit.”

If you must try an alternative diet, try vegetarianism instead. It’s far more benign. Also familiarize yourself with weather conditions before setting out and practice these sea safety guidelines. Now that spring is here and everyone wants to get out in the water, it’s important to know how to play safe.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Boy drifts a mile out to sea in rubber ring

sea, ring, rubber ringA twelve-year-old boy was rescued a mile off the coast of Wales today when he drifted away from shore with only a child’s rubber ring to keep him afloat.

A lifeboat crew saved the boy as he suffered from hypothermia and was about to fall unconscious. If he had, the crew said, he would have slipped out of the floating ring and drowned.

The boy had been playing by the seaside and had been carried off by the current into the sea. He had been drifting about 45 minutes when the rescuers found him.

The UK’s National Health Service reports that lifeguards respond to more than 13,000 incidents a year on the UK’s beaches. Many of these incidents are due to rip tides, which are more common than most people think, the NHS says. Inflatables are easily pulled out to sea by currents and strong winds.

If you are going to the beach, follow these important beach safety tips. And parents, please watch your children. You don’t want them to become a news item.

[Photo courtesy Greg Yap]

Australia’s Kakadu National Park floods trap tourists after they ignore closed road signs

Australia floodsWhat is it with German tourists and Australia’s Northern Territory? If they’re not getting eaten by crocodiles or succumbing to dehydration, they’re blatantly ignoring road signs and driving their way into croc-infested floodwaters. NT News online reports that four wayward Germans visiting remote Kakadu National Park drove their rented four-wheel-drive–allegedly at 80mph, no less–through the flooded crossing at Magela Creek and Oenpelli Road. The group were en route to see the famed Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr, in the East Alligator region of the park.

The car stalled out, leaving the foursome stranded in three feet of water, smack-dab in the middle of a 300-foot crossing. Despite their apparent inability to heed large, glaring warning signs and screams from more intelligent roadside onlookers, the Germans possessed enough survival instinct to clamber to the top of their vehicle, where they were rescued by police 30 minutes later.

Look, I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia, including Kakadu. I’ll be the first to point out that the international media and popular film and literature make the country out to be some kind of fauna-invoked death wish. If the great whites and saltwater crocs don’t get you, the box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopi, brown snakes, taipans, or redback and funnel web spiders will.

I’m not disputing the deadliness of these creatures. And I can’t deny that certain situations like the current floods in Queensland make an encounter more likely. The advice to avoid “crocky” areas of tropical Northern Australia is no joke, and should be taken very seriously. In general, however, it’s easy to avoid crocs and the rest of these much-maligned critters; your odds of ever seeing one (even if you’re Australian) are unlikely. It’s a huge continent, guys, and like most venomous or aggressive species, most of these animals won’t attack unless provoked.

When I visited stunning Kakadu (with a seasoned outfitter from the region, because there’s no shortage of untrained, self-proclaimed, even downright dangerous guides in the world), it was this same time of year; the “Wet,” or monsoon season. It’s low season for tourists because many roads are flooded, and as such, that does make for greater statistical odds for a croc encounter. But more to the point, why would you intentionally disobey safety precautions, especially when you’re in a foreign environment/they’re prominently displayed/designed for easy comprehension by international visitors?

The bottom line is, whether you choose to explore isolated places alone or with an environmentally-responsible, accredited professional, use your brain. Obey the rules, because they exist for a reason. Behave with respect for the land, flora, fauna, and people. Your stupidity or carelessness often cause more than just inconvenience to others. It can result in great expense and lost lives, including those of your rescuers. If nothing else, you’ll become fodder for global news outlets, who use you as an example of what not to do.

Red Sea beaches add safety measures against shark attacks

shark, sharks, shark attack, shark attacksBeaches at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh will reopen after officials ordered new safety measures following a recent series of shark attacks.

One swimmer was killed and four others injured in attacks by at least two sharks.

The new safety measures include patrol boats and onshore viewing stations. Swimmers, divers, and snorkelers will be reminded to stay within certain areas and not to feed the sharks.

Sharm el-Sheikh hasn’t had a fatal shark attack since 2004 and it’s unclear why so many incidents have happened in so short a time. One theory is that a boat carrying animals threw some dead carcasses overboard and that encouraged the predators. Another theory says that overfishing has forced sharks to hunt closer to shore, bringing them in contact with humans.