purple flag at the beach blowing in the wind.

The Purple Beach Flag

The purple beach flag is not as well-known as its red, yellow or green counterparts. But it does sometimes make an appearance at the beach. This article will dive into the various meaning of the purple flag, so the next time you’ll know what’s happening in the water when you see the purple flag swaying in the wind.

Dangerous Marine Life

This summer, I had my first encounter with the purple flag. I went down wanting to go surf in Seignosse in the South West of France, when I saw the unfamiliar color hissed next to the lifeguard house. I went towards the water and asked some people at the beach if they know what it means. Most haven’t noticed the change of the flag yet. Luckily, I found a woman with her surfboard saying that it’s because of the man-o-war jellyfish that being blown across the line-up towards the shore because of the onshore winds. Having encountered bluebottle jellyfish in Australia before, I knew firsthand that jellyfish stings could be highly uncomfortable and painful.

man-o-war jellyfish

But jellyfish aren’t the only creatures that prompt the hoisting of the purple flag. It can also serve as a warning for sharks, sea snakes, or other potentially hazardous marine life. So, if you ever see that purple flag, it’s best to stay out of the water until the all-clear is given.

Water Pollution and Bacteria

When we think of water pollution, images of plastic waste often come to mind. However, there’s more lurking in the water that can make you sick. While surfing, we swallow 10 times more water than a swimmer and spend longer time immersed in the ocean. Waterborne bacteria, including E. coli, can pose a significant threat to your health. These bacteria often find their way into the sea from sewage treatment plants and wastewater systems. In some places like England, sewage spills from wastewater treatment plants happen all too frequently, leading to beach closures.

Swallowing water contaminated with E. coli bacteria can result in various health problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. A study conducted in England even revealed that surfers had a significantly higher percentage of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their bodies compared to non-surfers, all due to their frequent exposure to polluted waters.

Organizations like Surfers Against Sewage are actively raising awareness and working toward solutions to combat water pollution. They offer tools like an app that highlights pollution hotspots, although it’s currently only available in England.

Surfing after heavy rainfall

After heavy rainfall, water pollution at the beach can spike dramatically. Swimmers and surfers are advised to avoid the water for a certain period following heavy rains, and the duration varies by location. In general, it’s recommended to wait at least three days before taking a dip, but a study from California suggests it should be as long as five days.

Heavy rainfall can wash pollutants, bacteria, and other contaminants from streets, roofs, and other surfaces into storm drains, which ultimately flow into the ocean. The purple flag may be raised to alert beach goers about the potential risks of swimming or surfing in these contaminated waters. So, if you’re planning to hit the waves after a rainstorm, keep an eye on the flag system, and when you see the purple flag, remember to wait it out for a few days.

Hazardous conditions

In some places, the purple flag can mean similar conditions as indicated by the red flag. This can be strong currents, rip tides or other dangerous conditions making water-related activities unsafe.

So next time you spot that purple flag fluttering at the beach, seek information about what’s going on in the water to stay safe and healthy weather its dangerous marine life, water pollution or hazardous conditions.

For German speakers:

There is a podcast about the purple flag and what it means.

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