Edgartown reopens South Beach to swimming

Edgartown closed South Beach to swimmers after the discovery of Portuguese man-of-wars Wednesday morning. The beach reopened Thursday, but swimmers were advised they enter at their own risk. — Photo by Gail Daman

Updated 11:40 am, Thursday

Edgartown officials reopened South Beach to swimmers Thursday morning. On Wednesday, an invasion of Portuguese man-of-wars prompted officials to close the popular beach to swimming.

The floating sea creatures are beautiful to look at but carry a nasty sting.

Jane Varkonda, Edgartown parks commissioner, agent told The Times in a telephone call Thursday morning beach-goers may enter the water at their own risk. She said the town would consider closing the beach again to swimmers if conditions worsen.

The reopening of the beach was welcome news on a day when temperatures are expected to soar into the nineties across much of the state.

On Wednesday, Ms. Varkonda told The Times two lifeguards were sent to the hospital after encounters with the venomous creatures.

The beauty of a man-of-war and its long streaming tentacles in the water hides a venomous sting. The animal’s tentacles, which can grow to be 40 feet long, are used to secure small fish for food and can inflict nasty welts on any swimmer unlucky enough to encounter one in the water.

The tentacles contain thousands of stinging cells, each of which is essentially a tiny microscopic coiled up harpoon.

The closure of the Island’s popular, mile-long, south shore beach just before the Fourth on a week when temperatures were predicted to soar disappointed beach-goers.

Experts say the best advice is to steer clear of Portuguese man-of-wars in the water and on the beach. Prevailing southerly winds are likely the cause of the invasion.

It is not unusual for Vineyarders to report sighting the balloon-shaped sail of Portuguese man-of-wars in the summer months. This year, the first sightings came in early June.

A fisherman sighted over a dozen of the stinging creatures in Vineyard Sound floating amid a massive weedline generated by the passage of tropical storm Andrea.

There were also reports in June of man-of-wars washing up on Norton Point beach in Katama, Long Point Beach in West Tisbury and Philbin Beach in Aquinnah.

The strong, tropical flow that has carried humid air and repeated thunder storms up the east coast, and the animals’ primitive sail propulsion system, likely transported the man-of-wars to Island beaches, where its appearance is something of a rarity.

There were news reports Wednesday of man-of-wars washing up on beaches from the Hamptons on Long Island to New Bedford.