Home Local News Sea lice can irritate swimmers at Ocean City, Assateague beaches

Sea lice can irritate swimmers at Ocean City, Assateague beaches

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Alongside sunburns and insects, swimmers on Delmarva can also add “sea lice” to their list of common beach nuisances.

Both the Ocean City Beach Patrol and Assateague State Park have put out warnings over the years for swimmers to watch out for these pests.

In a scientific context, Jonathan Cohen, an assistant professor for the University of Delaware’s Department of Marine Biosciences, said sea lice refers to a type of small parasitic crustacean, or copepod, that attaches itself to fish.

However, he explained it’s also a popular catch-all term used among beachgoers to describe a variety of irritants they might encounter in the water.

The Ocean City beach was crowded with kids and adults playing in the waves on Monday.

“So they could be small jellyfish. They could be other small crustacean,” he said. “Those tend to be the common culprits, but not necessarily the same sort of parasitic copepods that are referred to as sea lice.”

Though the informal name may sound alarming, Assateague State Park Manager Angela Baldwin said this “naturally occurring phenomenon” has no relation to the kind of lice parents fear children bringing home.

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What the park typically answers questions about are actually small jellyfish larvae, which can get caught between a swimmer’s bathing suit and skin and cause itching or even a rash.

Sea lice are popping up all over Gulf Coast beaches. While many sightings are along the panhandle, biologists say they expect to start seeing more move south along the coastline.

“It’s actually just given that name (sea lice) because of the appearance. They appear to look similar,” Baldwin said. “We recommend for folks to just treat it as you would a rash of another kind and that you should rinse really well and definitely rinse between your bathing suit and skin.”

This common nuisance has lasted from one week to several weeks, she said, and may not be quite as dense every day. 

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Source: GANNETT Syndication Service