The NT's beautiful coastline is a fantastic place to enjoy with family and friends, however, not all beach users are aware of the potential dangers they may encounter. The size of the tides, unpredictable rips and gutters, as well as dangerous marine creatures can all pose a risk for beach users.
The NT has over 10 000 km of coastline and 1,488 beaches. More than 200 of these beaches are classified as 'surf beaches' but are mainly located on the east coast of Arnhem land. However, they are becoming increasingly popular with school & community groups and tourism operators.
Many Top End beaches are characterised by strong tidal currents with shallow, low tide terrace structures and inshore rocks and reefs. Shallow inshore areas often have high levels of suspended silt which hides the bottom - so be careful when entering the water, no diving!
Understanding the ocean is very important. The more you know about how waves, wind and tides affect conditions in the water, the safer you will be and the better equipped you will be to keep others safe from danger. Recognising danger signs, and awareness of open water conditions, is essential in Australia.
When to Swim
Beach swimming in the Northern Territory should be undertaken in the dry season months of June, July, August and September as these months are outside the 'Stinger Season'.
Surf Life Saving NT recommends that you swim 'between the flags' where there are lifeguards and lifesaving resources. The red and yellow flagged area, set up by qualified surf lifesavers and lifeguards, represent a safer place to swim than un-patrolled areas. Only Darwin's Mindil Beach has lifesavers on duty every afternoon, June-September, thanks to the foresight of the Darwin City Council.
With that in mind, it is important to know how to protect yourself in the water and understand the warning signs and flags, to ensure you remember your trip to the beach for all the right reasons.
Consider protective clothing (long sleeved tops with shorts or a sunsuit) as stings have occurred in all months of the year. Small children are at greatest risk, so always cover them up and keep a close watch.
How else can I enjoy the beach safely?
When at the beach, or in any aquatic environment, children must be supervised both in and around the water’s edge. Learning to swim is a skill for life and one everybody should learn.
Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide to protect yourself from the sun, and always remember to stay hydrated. All beach goers are encouraged to talk to the lifesavers or lifeguards on duty about local conditions and beach safety before entering the water.
There are a number of beaches in the NT that are patrolled through our beautiful dry season. In addition the Darwin Waterfront Precinct is patrolled by lifeguards 365 days a year. Keep reading.
Sting, Stab, Strike
Many visitors to our beaches and waterways are unaware of the dangers they potentially face. Surf Life Saving QLD has created a fantastic range of fact sheets to provide more beach safety information, and are available to download. Keep Reading.
The BeachSafe website brought to you by Surf Life Saving Australia provides current information and conditions for the beach you would like to visit, hazards you might find and services available to assist in your beach choice to let you relax and enjoy your activities during your stay. Keep Reading.
Harmful Marine Creatures
There are harmful marine creatures in Top End waters so make sure to take care at all times.
In Darwin it is best to swim at Mindil Beach, Nightcliff Beach or Casuarina Beach when lifeguards and lifesavers are on duty. There hasn't been a fatal crocodile attack at these beaches for over 120 years.
If you are not swimming at a patrolled beach we recommend you follow the advice of the NT Government's Parks & Wildlife Service.
In Nhulunbuy you should swim at Town Beach when lifesavers are on duty or at Shady Beach or Little Bondi Beach where lifesavers operate patrols.
Dangerous Tropical Jellyfish
One species of tropical jellyfish is particularly dangerous - the Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri).
Look at the Box Jellyfish Poster (above) to learn to tell the difference between Chironex Fleckeri (Box Jellyfish) and Chiropsalmus, a species more commonly found on the Gove Peninsula beaches. It breeds and swarms in shallow water during the wet season so don't swim in the ocean at this time without wearing full protective clothing. Just don't!
This animal grows to a large size, often around 300 mm or more across the main body with tentacles that extend for several metres. Its sting is extremely painful. Another dangerous jellyfish is very small - the Irukandji - but its sting may go unnoticed. Symptoms occur in 5 - 30 minutes after being stung and include hypertension, racing pulse, lower back pain and a feeling of great anxiety.
In areas where dangerous tropical jellyfish are prevalent, and if the species causing the sting cannot be clearly identified, it is safer to treat the victim as outlined below.
Treatment for tropical jellyfish stings
- Remove the patient from the water and restrain if necessary
- Call for help (get a surf lifesaver or lifeguard to help you and call 000)
- Assess the patient and commence CPR as necessary
- Liberally douse the stung area with vinegar to neutralise invisible stinging cells - do not wash with fresh water
- If vinegar is unavailable, pick off any remnants of the tentacles (this is not harmful to the rescuer) and rinse sting well with seawater (not freshwater)
- Seek medical assistance with rapid transport to hospital
Ice may be applied for local pain relief for less severe stings.
For more information download the Stay Stinger Safe Brochure.