Poisonous sea snakes, as well as debris and algal toxins, could be hiding within the masses of sea foam covering several beaches in Australia, experts have warned.
Severe storms battering the east coast of the country in recent days have whipped up large amounts of sea foam, which has turned up on beaches in New South Wales and on the Gold and Sunshine coasts.
Locals and their children have been seen wading in the knee-high foam, and a video of woman searching for her missing dog, Hazel, in the foam in Byron Bay went viral this week.
But Australians have been warned to stay clear of the foam until it subsides as nasty things could be lurking inside.
Nathan Fife, a supervisor at Surf Lifesaving Australia, told Guardian Australia that the foam was not good “health-wise” and added that marine creatures such as sea snakes could get into it.
His warning echoed a similar one from Far North Coast surf lifesaving director Ben Redman in 2015, who told The Northern Star newspaper that people “shouldn’t swim in” the foam.
Mr Redman told the publication that sea snakes “seem to be attracted” to the foam and said 21 snakes were counted during a foam event at a beach in East Ballina in 2008.
There are at least 32 species of sea snakes found in Australia, mainly in the region around the Swain Reefs and the Keppel Islands, according to the Marine Education Society of Australasia.
Sea snakes are venomous but only a small proportion of bites are fatal to humans. As of 2019, there are believed to have been two deaths from sea snake bites in Australian waters, and people who are bitten require anti-venom treatment.
The foam could also contain debris such as trees and logs, said Mr Fife, adding that “half a cow” washed up on a beach on Tuesday, “so please be careful”.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), large algal blooms that are decaying near the shore could be hiding under the sea foam and could potentially impact human health and the environment.
Popping sea foam bubbles release algal toxins into the air, and the resulting aerosol could cause eye irritation and pose a health risk for people with asthma or other respiratory conditions, said NOAA.