Travel Warning: The Dangers of Sand

If you thought large waves, strong rip currents, and sharks were the only dangers at the beach—-think again.

There is nothing that makes my 3-year-old happier than digging a massive hole in the sand at our favorite beach in Hawaii. (Okay, she doesn’t exactly do much of the digging, but she really nails her role as sand hole foreman.) The sand hole becomes a mock playpen/playhouse for her while we are at the beach. Unfortunately, I recently learned that sand holes can become shallow graves for young children.

A new report reveals that in the last ten years more than 24 children have been killed when sand holes collapse on them. The report published in this week’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, states that since 1985, at least 20 children and young adults in the United States have died in beach or backyard sand submersions. And at least eight others died in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

According to the report’s author, sand hole collapses occur “horrifyingly fast.” In fact, studies show most sand hole victims became completely submerged within minutes when the walls of the hole collapse, “leaving virtually no evidence of the hole or location of the victim.”

I will admit that prior to the reading the report I had no concept of how dangerous sand holes were. The beach in Hawaii we frequent includes a half-mile long stretch of powder soft sand–perfect for digging. By mid-day the beach is dotted with sand holes—-many built by children whose parents are only too happy that their kids have found an activity to occupy them for a few hours. At the end of the day, the parents and children who helped create the holes leave, but their gigantic pits remain. It’s easy to see how an unsuspecting child or adult could fall into one especially after sunset.

The report advises parents not allow young children to play in sand unattended. In addition, the report’s authors recommend that parents not allow a sand hole to get deeper than their knees. Finally, the authors are hoping the report will prompt more action from lifeguards. They want lifeguards to order children and adults to stay out of any hole deeper than a child’s waist, and to have hole diggers fill their holes when they are done playing in them.

Still don’t think that sand holes pose a serious safety risk? Consider this: Researchers at the University of Florida found there were 16 sand hole or tunnel deaths in the U.S. from 1990-2006 compared with 12 fatal shark for the same period.

Something to think about the next time you head out for a fun day at the beach.

Related Articles:

A Great Family Beach

Summers at the Shore

A Day at the Beach–Part 1

A Day at the Beach–Part 2

Turtle Beach

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.