I hate the sea. It’s enormous, it’s full of creatures, and it makes me feel sick when I travel on it. I love sunsets over it and all of the edible creatures from it, and maybe one day there will be a sea that changes my opinions. But for now, I hate it.
Agde beach in the south of France is known as a perfect place to let sand, sun and the sea scrape away all the stresses of the week, and even me the seaside-hater can see that. At Christmas, we walked the beach with our dog and collected bag load of shells (we’ve since learnt you’re not supposed to do this, oops…). Now that summer has come around our poor dog Lottie is no longer welcome there, and we no longer have it to ourselves. Instead, you do what you do at every other beach, and battle for that perfect spot.
No, I’m not all that fond of beaches either. If I absolutely must be near water I prefer it to be the still kind, like a lake or a pool. I hate sand (pebble beaches make me very happy), and I hate hordes of people. So summers at the beach hold no allure for me. Still, it’s nice being ten minutes away from the Med, and to pass the time I watch the yachts and speedboats fight for dominance and the fishermen tending their oyster beds.
When we went last week, however, we noticed a distinct lack of people – men women and children – swimming. Kids on French beaches are usually stripped naked and sent to go and play in the shallows, whilst older kids would never be seen dead with their parents and would rather create unruly gangs who try to body surf the waves and play with dead crustaceans. And there’s always young couple frolicking with a bat and ball who eventually fall into each others arms in the water. None of that today. Suspicions deeply aroused, we went to investigate. Now the Mediterranean doesn’t have the greatest reputation as being clean, in fact many seaside resorts are well known for having a worrying high sewage to sand ratio. Over the years this has been worked on immensely, but you still get the odd nasty surprises.
At the water’s edge, there certainly were unspeakable things in the water, but not the sorts of things you flush down the loo: jellyfish. So that was why no-one was going in. The water was choc full of them. They looked completely dead, just black-banded fleshy circles, some tattered and torn to pieces, drifting with the waves. There appeared to be no clear path to swim, so that was why no-one was even risking it. There weren’t just a few, there were hundreds. Some lay washed up on the beach, and once high tide struck it was clear the beach was going to be strewn with them.
It sort of ruined the day really.
Later, I read this article on the regional news site Midi Libre.
Elles sont inoffensives, c’est-à-dire non urticantes même si certaines personnes peuvent ressentir une petite gêne après un contact. Leur arrivée est liée au réchauffement de l’eau et aux différents courants. Mais la plupart sont déjà mortes quand elles arrivent en bord de plage.
Rough translation: “They are harmless, that is to say non-stinging, although certain people can experience discomfort after contact. Their arrival is linked to warming water temperatures and different currents. But for the most part they are dead when they arrive on the beach.”
Well that makes me feel bad for fearing them as blood sucking sea-monsters then. In fact looking back it’s quite sad to think of all of those dead creatures struck down by bad currents and warming water.
That doesn’t mean I want to swim amongst them and get their dead jelly bodies in my hair.
Apparently it is a cyclical thing that happens every year, and although fishermen may use them as a sign of a warm summer to come it usually means nothing like that.
The article finishes on a cheery note, insisting that people don’t go swimming around Agde if there are lots of jellyfish about as you never know if there are others mixed amongst the harmless ones, such as les pélagies (sorry, not sure of the English translation). These are the types of jellyfish you see in deep sea diving, with bulbous heads and stinging strands in their draping bodies. We saw one wash up on a beach here in France a few years ago and all the parents stood around watching a man bury it deep in the sand until a lifeguard could dispose of it, ensuring that their little darlings wouldn’t accidentally dig it up and start playing hacky sack with it. These are the ones that ‘can cause serious burns’ and can sometimes be mixed up in the shallows with the non-harmful types.
I hate the sea.