The sun in Queensland is very strong. This tropical region has the highest incidence of melanoma (sun cancer) in the world. Always wear a shirt, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen lotion to protect your skin. If possible, stay in the shade. When in the sun, you will begin to burn in about 20 minutes on a clear sunny day, even in winter.
The first safety rule is to look for information. Surf lifesavers supervise swimmers at the beach and their advice must be followed.
Swimming in Far North Queensland is great at all times of the year, but you'll need to restrict your swimming to inside the stinger nets during summer. During summer (October to June) it is important to swim inside the enclosure because it is the only safe swimming zone on the beach. The arrival of the box jellyfish close to the beach prevents swimming in the surf unless the beaches have the protective stinger nets installed or you wear a stinger resistant swimming costume.
At all times you are strongly advised to swim only between the surf rescue flags, coloured yellow and red.
Basic swim safety rules:
- Swim in between the red and yellow flags or special enclosures
- Do not swim if you are unsure of your ability to handle the sea conditions.
- Do not swim for at least 20 minutes after eating.
- Do not swim when under the influence of alcohol.
- Do not swim at night.
- Always swim with a buddy - keep an eye on each other.
- Never run, jump or dive into shallow waters at the beach.
Watch out for the nasty box jellyfish, usually seen from October until April. Found in shallow waters north of Gladstone, these jellyfish can administer a sting that can inflict searing pain and leave prominent scars. A sting, if severe enough, can also be fatal.
Box jellyfish breed in mangrove swamps and are more numerous after rain, which flushes them out of river systems towards beaches. It is very important to swim in stinger net enclosures to avoid making contact with the box jellyfish.
Box jellyfish are pale blue, transparent and bell or cubed shaped with four distinct sides, hence the name 'box' jellyfish. Measuring up to 20cm along each side of the cube or bell, the box jellyfish has on each corner as many as 15 tentacles, which can each be 3 metres in length with up to 5,000 nematocysts (stinging cells).
At only 2cm in diameter, Irukandji are much smaller than box jellyfish, and inhabit a large sea area that includes the Great Barrier Reef and beaches.
The Irukandji is most prevalent in the northern waters of Queensland, such as beaches near Cairns. The sting itself is only moderately painful and scarring is minimal, but approximately 30 minutes after being stung the patient develops severe back and abdominal pain, limb or joint pain, nausea and vomiting, sweating and agitation.
Likewise with the box jellyfish, it is important to swim in stinger net enclosures and report any stings to life guards and other relevant local authorities.
Stingrays are amazing creatures of the ocean and are always a thrill to see. They can be found gliding over the Great Barrier Reef, the shallows of sandy beaches, or in muddy estuarine swamps.
The danger with stingrays is the barb on their tails. Disturbing a stingray can cause the creature to jab the poisonous barb into your body, causing considerable pain or, in some rare cases, death.
Stingrays lie very flat on the bottom of the ocean, making them difficult to spot and easy to accidentally step on. To avoid this, the best practice of walking through the water is to shuffle your feet in the sand. This will make the stingray move to another location.
Medical treatment should be sought if stung by a stingray. It should be noted, however, that incidences of stingray jabs are very rare. It is possible to swim at a beach where the rays are present - as long as you leave them alone, they will leave you alone too.
Visitors to Australia are often more fearful of sharks than anything else in the country. This fear is exaggerated and unnecessary. The Jaws movies of the 1980s spread misinformation to the western world declaring sharks as highly dangerous creatures with a bloodlust for humans.
The reality is vastly different. The chances of encountering a shark at a beach in Queensland, let alone being attacked by one, is so low it is barely worth mentioning. With less than one shark attack per year in Australia, there is more chance of a piano falling from a high-rise building and squashing a pedestrian.
Though it is true that sharks are predators, humans are not among their natural prey. Despite this, shark nets are prevalent at many popular beaches along the Queensland coastline. Baits and large nets lie offshore and are checked every two days for sharks.
To help avoid the possibility of a shark attack, here are some common sense rules to follow:
- Always heed the warnings of lifeguards at the beach
- Do not swim at night
- Do not swim in murky waters
- Do not swim if you are bleeding
- Do not throw food scraps into the water
- If fishing, do not discard fish scraps or guts into waters where people swim.
Great Barrier Reef
Swimming at the reef can be enjoyed all year round; however, local tour operators recommend the use of a stinger suit or wetsuit (available on the majority of boats) during the summer months to protect from sunburn and the rare occurrence of jellyfish stings.
Stinger resistant swimming enclosures, which afford a high degree of protection from jellyfish during the summer months, are in operation at:
- Port Douglas: Four Mile Beach
- Cairns: Holloways Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Trinity Beach, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach, Palm Cove, Ellis Beach
- Cassowary Coast: Mission Beach
- Townsville: Rowes Bay, The Strand, Picnic Bay at Magnetic Island
- Mackay: Seaforth Beach, Bucasia Beach, Halliday Bay, Mackay Harbour
Constant research and monitoring of marine stinger behaviour is conducted at Queensland beaches to try and develop more effective ways of combating marine stingers. Surf Lifesaving Queensland has an effective policy of dragging nets through the water to determine if stingers are lurking off the beach. If any are found, beachgoers are warned and lifeguard activity is heightened. In addition, if a stinger stings anyone at a Queensland beach, the beach enclosure is closed until a change of weather patterns can drive the stingers away from the coastline.
Remedies for marine stings
Vinegar is the tried and tested way to treat a marine sting. Most beaches have containers of vinegar available for use if a sting occurs, located at the dune segment of beach. Pouring the liquid on the stung area deactivates the stinging cells, although this will not reduce the pain. Do not rub the victim's skin. Symptoms of a sting can include nausea and severe abdominal pain. It is necessary to go to the hospital and seek professional treatment.
The most dangerous marine stingers found in Queensland waters are the box jellyfish and Irukandji jellyfish.
The rainforest has an ecological system comprised of plant life and wildlife that can cause concerns for humans if proper care and respect for the environment is not taken. Throughout the Daintree National Park, a few simple rules apply to ensure both your safety and the protection of the rainforest and its inhabitants.
- Don't feed the wildlife – they will become reliant on this food and venture out of their normal habitat, endangering both themselves and, if they are aggressive, you
- Stay strictly on the boardwalks
- Clean up barbecue and picnic areas – take all of your rubbish with you
- Do not collect shells, coral, seeds, plants or wildlife – everything in the reef and rainforest areas around the Daintree is protected
- Do not pick, break or remove plants
- If camping, use only a fuel stove, never an open fire
- Don't put soap, toothpaste, sunscreen or detergent in lakes or streams
- Take a warm coat, as rainforests can be cool
- Take wet weather gear, as rain can fall at any time
- Wear insect repellent
- Always carry a good map or compass if you are not with a guided tour
Don't worry too much - crocodiles don't like hanging out with humans. However, stay alert whether you see a crocodile or not. Estuarine crocodiles inhabit the sea and most waterways within the Daintree National Park. They may also travel along beaches.
When travelling in Far North Queensland, never swim in rivers or streams - always seek local advice, as crocodiles may be present. Many areas are posted with warning signs.
General rules to avoid contact with crocodiles are:
- Never provoke or interfere with crocodiles, even small ones.
- Be more aware of crocodiles at night and during their breeding season, September to April.
- Do not feed crocodiles — it is illegal and dangerous.
- Never clean fish or discard fish scraps near the water's edge or at boat ramps.
- Do not approach riverbeds flanked with mangrove trees.
- If you see a crocodile, walk away. Do not feed it. Do not take a photo. Just leave.
- Report crocodile sightings to local authorities.
Take care around cassowaries. Attacks by these large birds can cause serious injury or death. Stay well away if any cassowaries are sighted, and never feed them.
These plants are found at rainforest edges. They grow to approximately 3-4 metres high and have large, heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges. Do not touch these plants as it will almost certainly result in a very painful sting. If you are stung, seek medical advice.