7 Gorgeous Beach Destinations That Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Beachgoers beware: The ocean may be pretty, but toxic.

We here at Oyster.com love travel, but we aren't blind to some of the more troubling issues confronting today's globetrotters. This means everything from taking into account how badly climate change is already destroying major bucket-list destinations to considering which tourist attractions may be truly unethical. Since humans seem bent on destroying everything that's beautiful in the world, we're here to tell you that beaches are -- unfortunately -- not immune. Despite their tranquil vibes and lulling ocean waves, many are often so polluted that going for a dip may be putting your own health at risk. Read on to learn about these seven beaches that look beautiful on the surface, but are faced with everything from radioactive fallout to soaring fecal bacteria counts. 

Author's Note: Keep in mind that water contamination is based on a variety of human influenced factors, though these can be exacerbated by natural events like storms and current shifts. As such, many of the beaches on this list are safe for swimming and recreation at various times of the year. Be sure to have a look at the water quality at any of them before you visit (if such information is available -- sadly, that's not always the case).  

1. Bikini Atoll -- Marshall Islands

From a distance, the white-sand and palm-fringed shorelines of the islands making up the Marshall Islands' Bikini Atoll are a postcard-worthy sight to behold. However, after forcing its inhabitants to vacate the area in the aftermath of WWII, the United States tested some of the largest hydrogen bombs ever made across the atoll in 1954. The blasts have poisoned residents of the nearby islands, as well as food sources, and despite repeated attempts to repopulate the islands of the atoll, residual radiation continues to be found in nearly every facet of the environment. According to The Guardian, as late as 2012, the U.N.has determined that the islands were still essentially uninhabitable. 

2. Port Phillip Bay Beaches -- Melbourne, Australia

Kim Talento/Flickr.

Australia is home to some of the world's most striking natural scenery and two of its most exciting cities: Sydney and Melbourne. And while Sydney's urban beaches receive the lion's share of attention, Melbourne has more than its share of dazzling sand. Unfortunately, the geography of the Melbourne region means that it can also -- at times -- be incredibly contaminated. You see, the bay is constructed by a fairly tight ring of land, with just one outlet to the ocean. It's also surrounded by one of the most densely populated regions of the country, and fed by multiple rivers and streams that drain from the heartland. Per the Herald Sun, during the 2016/17 holiday season nearly 40 beaches had to be temporarily closed as levels of harmful bacteria soared. Bacteria found in human and animal fecal matter were the prime culprit, and that season's unusually heavy rains exacerbated an already ongoing problem. As climate change continues to alter worldwide weather patterns, the problem is only likely to get worse.

3. The Jersey Shore

The Jersey Shore ranges from mild to wild, and can be quite polluted.

From the windswept dunes of Sandy Hook to famous boardwalks in Seaside Heights and Wildwood, the Jersey Shore is a diverse stretch of sand that draws millions of visitors every summer. Unfortunately, along with soaring hotel rates and crowds of beachgoers, beach closures are a regular part of the summertime rhythm. As recently as June 2017, 16 beaches were under bacteria advisories according to app.com. While the number of beach closures fluctuates all season long, it's wise to check ahead and figure out your nearest sandy alternatives if you're heading to the shore for a vacation. 

4. Kauai, Hawaii

Hanalei Bay Beach image courtesy of Robert Linsdell via Flickr.

Hawaii is a land of bright sun, emerald green mountains, fantastical waterfalls, and surf-ready beaches. Unfortunately, some of its islands also have serious freshwater contamination issues that create health concerns on many of its beaches. In Kauai, bacterial contamination from enterococcus faecalis has been shown to reach astronomically high levels as recently as June 2017, according to the Surfrider Foundation. This is, in part, due to runoff from inland farms, but also due to the state's reliance on cesspools to contain sewage. Both cause fecal matter to merge with groundwater and freshwater sources, which ultimately end up in the ocean. The bacteria has shown resistance to multiple forms of antibiotics at this point, and can be responsible for everything from diarrhea and vomiting to possible death in humans. The most frequently contaminated beaches and swimming spots are around estuaries, where the streams meet the ocean, including famously pretty Hanalei Bay Beach.

5. Goa, India

Goa's beaches may look pretty, but water quality is often dicey.

India isn't known for being forthcoming on issues relating to human health and the environment. This includes fudging its air-quality numbers in Delhi as well as underreporting cases of malaria, dengue, and other mosquito-borne diseases. Perhaps, then, it's no surprise that water quality isn't closely monitored across much of the nation. And while beaches in India aren't the sunbathe-and-splash types found in Southeast Asia, they're no less pretty -- check out Palolem in Goa if you need proof. Goa is India’s most famous beach destination, but ocean testing is not done regularly. In 2016, the state-reported water quality at over 30 percent of its freshwater monitoring stations was logged as unsatisfactory. This is important because freshwater sources feed directly into the ocean, many times right next to popular beaches. Runoff from inland farms, industries, and human waste thus flows downstream, elevating levels of e. coli and other harmful bacteria in the water. This is further compounded by rampant development along Goa's coastline, where sewage often simply empties directly into the sea. 

6. Cuyahoga County Beaches, Ohio

Erik Drost/Flickr

We've already told you about the horrifying effects of climate change on the entire Great Lakes ecosystem -- from toxic algae blooms to plummeting stocks in fisheries. And those decades of abuse at human hands haven't spared its beaches, either, particularly in Ohio's densely populated Cuyahoga County, which is home to Cleveland. Advisories are regularly issued by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health for high levels of e. coli at the county's most famous beaches, like Arcadia Beach, Sims Beach, and Noble Beach. Again, this changes on a daily basis, so it's important to check ahead. Even so, the advisories in this county are pretty regular, so it may be worth giving these beaches a pass. 

7. Seminyak Beach, Bali, Indonesia

Seminyak Beach can be pretty, but depending on the time of year it might be hazardous to your health.

With its upmarket nightlife, boutique shopping, high-end hotels, and surf-ready seas, Seminyak is the classier cousin to its brash and boozy cousin Kuta down the shore. However, that slight difference in geography doesn't mean that this iconic beach destination is any freer of the pollution and contamination that's plagued Kuta for decades. We're not just talking about the annual heaps of trash that wash up on shore, either -- though that is a major problem, to be sure. In fact, as development along Bali's southwest coast rages on nearly unchecked, pollution is only getting worse. From November to March -- the rainy season -- winds push water closer to shore and surges of freshwater hit the sea from inland. During this time, visible ocean pollution combines with industrial and farm runoff, as well as human sewage, to create a decidedly less-than-tranquil affair. Keep in mind that the rainy season in Bali is becoming more prolonged and extreme due to climate change, meaning this problem is only intensifying.

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