Salisbury Man Sets New State Winter Flounder Record

It was confirmed this week that Keven Twilley’s five-pound, two-ounce winter flounder caught last month was a new state record. Submitted Photo

OCEAN CITY — A Salisbury man late last month set a new Maryland state record for winter flounder with a five-plus pounder caught 26 miles off the coast of Ocean City.

On June 23, Kevin Twilley of Salisbury was fishing on the “Fish Bound” with Captain Kane Bounds about 26 miles off the coast in 140 feet of water when he caught the five-pound, two-ounce winter flounder.

“I was fishing with a clam when the fish took the bait,” he said. “It was a soft take and I didn’t think there was much to it until I got it next to the boat and realized it was a winter flounder.”

Winter flounder are slightly different than the summer flounder caught most frequently inshore by recreational anglers in and around the coastal bays. They are flatfish that hide on muddy and sandy bottoms to ambush their prey. Adult flounder have both eyes on one side, but while the summer flounder caught most frequently have eyes on their left side, winter flounder have their eyes on the right side.

After Twilley’s winter flounder catch, Bounds called a friend onshore to check the current Maryland state record and learned it was four pounds, seven ounces caught by angler Jeremy Kuhn in 2006.

Once the “Fish Bound” was back at Bahia Marina, the winter flounder was weighed on a certified scale and the DNR Coastal Fisheries Biologist Steve Doctor was called to confirm the species and the weight. It turned out to be a new Maryland state record.

After getting confirmation from the DNR on the new state record, Twilley said the fat winter flounder made for a great meal.

“I baked it and ate it and it was delicious,” he said.

The DNR maintains records for sportfish in three divisions including Atlantic, Chesapeake and freshwater, and awards plaques to anglers who achieve new state records. To report a potential record catch, call 443-569-1381, or 410-260-8325. Anglers should keep their potential record-breakers submerged in ice water to preserve their weight until they can get them to a certified scale at a marina, tackle shop or seafood retailer. All IGFA rules for records and Maryland fishing regulations apply.

Fish caught from privately owned, fee-fishing waters are not eligible for record consideration. Incidentally, the current Maryland state record for summer flounder was a 17-pound beast caught by angler Anthony Vacari off Assateague in October 1974.

Seven Rehabbed Turtles Released On Assateague

Six turtles are pictured on the beach yesterday at Assateague State Park making their way toward the ocean. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

ASSATEAGUE — A total of seven rehabilitated sea turtles were released from the beach at the Assateague State Park on Thursday morning, continuing a recent spike in releases by National Aquarium staffers in and around the resort area.

The National Aquarium released seven sea turtles from the Assateague State Park beach on Thursday, each of which had been rehabilitated from various injuries and ailments in recent months at the facility in Baltimore. One of the turtles released from Assateague on Thursday stranded in Virginia Beach in June after being accidentally hooked by a recreational fisherman. The sea turtle was admitted to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center for surgery before being transferred to the National Aquarium for rehabilitation.

The six other sea turtles released from Assateague on Thursday came to the National Aquarium throughout last winter suffering from a fairly common phenomenon known as cold stunning, essentially the equivalent of human hypothermia. Throughout the winter, hundreds of cold-stunned sea turtles were discovered on the beaches up and down the mid-Atlantic region and many found their way to rehabilitation centers like the National Aquarium.

The sea turtles hit patches of extremely cold water during their typical winter migration patterns to warmer climates and the cold water literally stuns them to the point their bodies start to shut down, organs start to fail and they wash up on the beaches. The six sea turtles released from Assateague on Thursday were rehabilitated at the National Aquarium to the point they could safely be returned to the sea.

The releases on Thursday continue an active time for the releases of rehabilitated turtles and other sea creatures in the resort area this summer. Just two weeks ago, three cold-stunned turtles rehabilitated at the National Aquarium were released from the beach near the Inlet in Ocean City.

In early June, National Aquarium staffers released a juvenile grey seal that had been rescued from a Delaware beach this spring on Easter appropriately named Lilly. The seal, which had suffered a broken jaw and was transported for rehabilitation in Baltimore, was the National Aquarium Animal Rehabilitation Program’s 150th successful release.

Local Rescues Texas Family Caught In Rip Current In Nantucket

Tom Vach

OCEAN CITY — An Ocean City local humbly donned the mantle of hero last week when he rescued a family of three caught in a rip current on a beach in Nantucket.

Ocean City local Tommy Vach was on vacation in Nantucket last week when the lifetime surfer was quickly called into duty. The Johns family, including father Derrick, mom Jennifer and 16-year-old Erynn, from Austin, Texas, were in the ocean at Nobadeer Beach on Nantucket last Tuesday when they suddenly found themselves caught in a dangerous rip current. Vach said this week it was somewhat foggy last Tuesday on the beach and he heard what he thought at first was the normal screams of people playing in the water until he realized something far more serious was going on.

“I could hear people playing with the normal noise and screams, but I realized it was people calling for help,” he said on Monday now back in his office in Ocean Pines. “I went into the ocean and found the mom screaming for help for her daughter. I was able to pull the daughter in safely and went back out to get her parents.”

Vach said he found the mother and quickly got her in safely, but the father, Derrick Johns, was still out there struggling against the rip current.

“The person in the most trouble was the dad,” he said. “He had been trying to help his daughter and wife while fighting against the current and he was completely exhausted. I dragged him up on the beach and turned him over to get him breathing again. By then, the lifeguards and emergency services had responded and they told me he was probably about 20 seconds away from drowning.”

The three Johns family members were whisked away by ambulance to an area hospital and Vach thought nothing more of it until he learned he was the mysterious man in the orange trunks. Vach said he was later in a hotel room with friends when the story broke on the local TV news. Erynn Johns had a Go Pro camera on a selfie stick while she was playing in the ocean with her family and recorded much of the incident.

“I really didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “We were watching the news and they were reporting about the rescue. Erynn captured a lot of the incident on her Go Pro and they were looking for the ‘mysterious man in the orange trunks’ that came to their aid. I saw it and went to the Nantucket police and they were able to reconnect me with the family.”

Vach said he met with Derrick, Jennifer and Erynn Johns and they were clearly thankful that he interceded for them.

“They are such a nice family,” he said. “Derrick is an ex-Marine and is very fit and is an excellent swimmer. Erynn is going to West Point and is a soccer player. They are all very fit and it just goes to show it doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer one is, the ocean is always in charge.”

Vach, an Ocean City native who spent 20 years in California is a surfer and strong swimmer in his own right, said he has made countless rescues over the years while growing up on the beach and has seen more than his fair share of people caught in dangerous rip currents.

“The message here is, don’t panic and as odd as it sounds, let the rip current take you for a little bit and then swim parallel to the beach once you get outside of it,” he said. “Your first instinct is to swim back into it because that’s the way you came in, but that’s when people, even the best swimmers, get into trouble.”

Vach is a board member for the Ocean City Surf Club, whose message among other things is respect for the ocean and the beach environment.

“One of the things we always hammer home when we’re teaching the youth about the ocean is it is something to respect,” he said. “Rip currents are very real and very dangerous and we can’t emphasize enough the importance of knowing how to handle them no matter how strong a swimmer one is.”

Rip currents are often prevalent in the ocean and the town of Ocean City and its Beach Patrol hammer home the message about their dangers on a daily basis. Ocean City Beach Patrol lifeguards hold daily seminars on the beach each morning, educating beachgoers about the particular dangers on that given day and the town includes information about the dangers of rip currents in its public outreach messages, second only perhaps to the pedestrian safety messages.

Nonetheless, there are thousands of rescues from rip currents throughout the summer and in many years, more than a few tragedies. Last summer was perhaps the worst in recent memory with at three drownings in the ocean attributed to rip currents. Thus far this summer, it has been fairly quiet on the rip current front, knock on wood, suggesting the currents haven’t been as prevalent or the public awareness blitz is hitting home. In either case, it is important to remember that rip currents can appear on even the calmest of days in the ocean and the message about swimming out of them and parallel to the beach cannot be emphasized enough.

Ocean City Charter Captain Boats Floating Del. Lifeguard Stand

recovered lifeguard stand

OCEAN CITY — An Ocean City charter boat recovered one of seven lifeguard stands reported missing from Rehoboth Beach last week about five miles off the resort coast on Sunday.

Last Thursday, beach sweepers in Rehoboth reported seven of the beach patrol’s lifeguard chairs, or more than a third of the Delaware resort town’s stands, were missing when they did their morning cleaning operation. The Rehoboth Police responded, as did the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, but the missing stands were nowhere to be found.

A Delaware State Police helicopter cruised the coastline and did not see any evidence of the stands in the water or hidden somewhere on the beach. The Rehoboth Beach Patrol employed back-up lifeguard stands for the weekend as the investigation continued.

On Sunday morning, Captain Mark Sampson on the “Fish Finder” was fishing about two miles off the Ocean City coast when it came upon one of the missing stands floating in the water.

“We were fishing yesterday morning about two miles out on a beautiful, calm day and we could see something white floating in the water about a half a mile away,” said Sampson on Monday. “We went over to it and found out it was a lifeguard stand floating upside down in the water. We hadn’t heard anything about the missing stands in Rehoboth and just assumed it was probably from Ocean City.”

Sampson said he called the Coast Guard and informed them of the find and the coordinates for the lifeguard stand and went on their way. He said he didn’t consider at the time making an attempt to bring the floating lifeguard stand on board and continued fishing after notifying the Coast Guard.

Sampson said he and the “Fish Finder” crew kept on fishing through mid-morning and were about five miles offshore when they came across another lifeguard stand floating in the ocean. Sampson called friend and Ocean City Councilman Doug Cymek, who informed him of the seven missing lifeguard stands from Rehoboth.

“It was then after noon when we saw the second lifeguard stand drifting by us,” he said. “We decided because of the potential danger we would attempt to bring it on board. With four guys and some creative rigging and rope work, we were able to bring it on board.”

Sampson said the large wooden lifeguard stands created the potential for a serious navigation hazard in even the calmest, brightest of conditions, let alone in the fog or dark.

“It had the potential to be really dangerous,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to run across it in any size boat.”

Sampson and the “Fish Finder” hauled the lifeguard stand into its home port at the Ocean City Fishing Center in West Ocean City where it was taken off the vessel with a forklift. The Rehoboth Beach Patrol was notified and instructed where to come pick it up on Monday. The lifeguard stand weighs about 500 pounds and costs around $800. The other missing stands have not been located and are potentially still causing navigation hazards. It is uncertain how or why the stands went missing in the first place although the incident appears to be a prank.

 

Ocean City Local Rescues Family From Rip Current Off Nantucket

Tommy Vach

OCEAN CITY — An Ocean City local humbly donned the mantle of hero last week when he rescued a family of three caught in a rip current on a beach in Nantucket.

Ocean City local Tommy Vach was on vacation in Nantucket last week when the lifetime surfer was quickly called into duty. The Johns family, including father Derrick, mom Jennifer and 16-year-old Erynn, from Austin, Texas, were in the ocean at Nobadeer Beach on Nantucket last Tuesday when they suddenly found themselves caught in a dangerous rip current. Vach said this week it was somewhat foggy last Tuesday on the beach and he heard what he thought at first was the normal screams of people playing in the water until he realized something far more serious was going on.

“I could hear people playing with the normal noise and screams, but I realized it was people calling for help,” he said on Monday now back in his office in Ocean Pines. “I went into the ocean and found the mom screaming for help for her daughter. I was able to pull the daughter in safely and went back out to get her parents.”

Vach said he found the mother and quickly got her in safely, but the father, Derrick Johns, was still out there struggling against the rip current.

“The person in the most trouble was the dad,” he said. “He had been trying to help his daughter and wife while fighting against the current and he was completely exhausted. I dragged him up on the beach and turned him over to get him breathing again. By then, the lifeguards and emergency services had responded and they told me he was probably about 20 seconds away from drowning.”

The three Johns family members were whisked away by ambulance to an area hospital and Vach thought nothing more of it until he learned he was the mysterious man in the orange trunks. Vach said he was later in a hotel room with friends when the story broke on the local TV news. Erynn Johns had a Go Pro camera on a selfie stick while she was playing in the ocean with her family and recorded much of the incident.

“I really didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “We were watching the news and they were reporting about the rescue. Erynn captured a lot of the incident on her Go Pro and they were looking for the ‘mysterious man in the orange trunks’ that came to their aid. I saw it and went to the Nantucket police and they were able to reconnect me with the family.”

Vach said he met with Derrick, Jennifer and Erynn Johns and they were clearly thankful that he interceded for them.

“They are such a nice family,” he said. “Derrick is an ex-Marine and is very fit and is an excellent swimmer. Erynn is going to West Point and is a soccer player. They are all very fit and it just goes to show it doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer one is, the ocean is always in charge.”

Vach, an Ocean City native who spent 20 years in California is a surfer and strong swimmer in his own right, said he has made countless rescues over the years while growing up on the beach and has seen more than his fair share of people caught in dangerous rip currents.

“The message here is, don’t panic and as odd as it sounds, let the rip current take you for a little bit and then swim parallel to the beach once you get outside of it,” he said. “Your first instinct is to swim back into it because that’s the way you came in, but that’s when people, even the best swimmers, get into trouble.”

Vach is a board member for the Ocean City Surf Club, whose message among other things is respect for the ocean and the beach environment.

“One of the things we always hammer home when we’re teaching the youth about the ocean is it is something to respect,” he said. “Rip currents are very real and very dangerous and we can’t emphasize enough the importance of knowing how to handle them no matter how strong a swimmer one is.”

Rip currents are often prevalent in the ocean and the town of Ocean City and its Beach Patrol hammer home the message about their dangers on a daily basis. Ocean City Beach Patrol lifeguards hold daily seminars on the beach each morning, educating beachgoers about the particular dangers on that given day and the town includes information about the dangers of rip currents in its public outreach messages, second only perhaps to the pedestrian safety messages.

Nonetheless, there are thousands of rescues from rip currents throughout the summer and in many years, more than a few tragedies. Last summer was perhaps the worst in recent memory with at three drownings in the ocean attributed to rip currents. Thus far this summer, it has been fairly quiet on the rip current front, knock on wood, suggesting the currents haven’t been as prevalent or the public awareness blitz is hitting home. In either case, it is important to remember that rip currents can appear on even the calmest of days in the ocean and the message about swimming out of them and parallel to the beach cannot be emphasized enough.

 

One Month In, Ramadan Trial Stops For Judge’s Vacation

Basel Ramadan

OCEAN CITY — The New York trial of West Ocean City resident Basel Ramadan, alleged ringleader of a vast multi-million dollar cigarette smuggling ring who was later charged with attempted “murder for hire” from behind bars, has dragged into its fourth week and will now pause while the judge vacations.

In May 2013, federal officials concluded an investigation into a multi-million-dollar cigarette smuggling operation with raids on two locations in and around the resort area, including the West Ocean City homes of Basel Ramadan, who was called the “ringleader” and “boss of the enterprise,” and Samer Ramadan, who was called the “enterprise treasurer.” Federal officials on the same day raided the Ramadans’ offices over the Subway restaurant they owned near 26th Street in Ocean City.

Over two years after the raids in May 2013, the trial for Basel Ramadan began in New York’s King’s County Supreme Court back on June 10 and has continued almost daily in the nearly four weeks since. The trial continued on Monday before halting for nearly two weeks because the judge in the case is on a pre-planned vacation.

It is expected to resume on July 20 and the New York Attorney General’s Office could complete the presentation of its case shortly thereafter. It is uncertain if the defense will present its case, and if so, how long that might take, but summations in the case and closing arguments could be heard by the end of the month.

At the Ramadans’ West Ocean City homes in the Oyster Harbor community, $1.4 million in large black bags was recovered, along with 20,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes. Also seized were numerous vehicles and other property belonging to the Ramadans. The Ramadans allegedly conducted the vast cigarette smuggling operation out of their Ocean City properties, but 14 other co-conspirators, from transporters to distributors to resellers, were also rounded up at locations all over the mid-Atlantic region.

According to the New York Attorney General’s Office, the Ramadans and their co-conspirators allegedly funneled thousands of cartons of untaxed smokes and millions of dollars in ill-gotten revenue through Ocean City and Worcester County from a wholesaler in Virginia to a distribution warehouse in Delaware, from whence the illegal, untaxed cigarettes were distributed to retail outlets all over New York City and upstate.

In May 2013, a New York grand jury handed down formal indictments against the Ramadans and their alleged 14 co-conspirators. The 300-plus page grand jury indictment includes 244 total counts and another 243 “pattern acts.” Also included in the indictment are numerous “overt acts,” which include recorded phone conversations and movements of the alleged co-conspirators. According to the indictment, the Ramadans were successful for a long time in disguising the illicit proceeds and funneling through local banking institutions and allowed them to continue to finance the purchase of thousands of cartons of cigarettes from Virginia wholesaler Cooper Booth Inc.

Last July, Samer Ramadan, pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption, the top charge against him for his role in the massive cigarette smuggling scheme and was sentenced to a maximum of six years in prison and a minimum of two years. Another co-conspirator, Youssef Odeh, last year pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption and second-degree conspiracy for his role in an alleged murder-for-hire plot targeting witnesses in the case and was also sentenced to a maximum of six years and a minimum of two.

While Basel Ramadan faces trial for his leadership role in the vast cigarette smuggling operation, his case was complicated in October 2013 when he was indicted, along with Odeh, in an alleged “murder for hire” plot while incarcerated. The New York Attorney General’s Office in October 2013 added the new charges alleging Basel Ramadan and Odeh conspired from behind bars to murder witnesses they believed were cooperating with law enforcement in building a case against them.

“During the course of the above-stated conspiracy, it was the stated goal of defendant Ramadan and defendant Odeh to kill several individuals whom the defendants believed to be witnesses against them in the prosecution of the Kings County indictment,” the indictment reads. “In order to carry out the above stated goal of conspiracy, both defendants discussed and agreed with individuals that the individuals would carry out the goal of the conspiracy by intentionally causing, or recruiting, other individuals to cause the death of persons the defendants believed to be witnesses against them on behalf of the prosecution.”

 

Launch Activity Picking Up At Wallops

The latest of several recent launches from Wallops Island Flight Facility was Tuesday featured a 50-foot tall suborbital rocket carrying scientific experiments. Photo courtesy of Wallops Island

WALLOPS — NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility, south of Ocean City and Assateague Island, successfully launched a five-story-high suborbital rocket Tuesday morning.

Around 6:15 a.m. on Tuesday, the Wallops Island Flight Facility along the Virginia shore launched a NASA Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket, carrying two space technology demonstration projects. The suborbital rocket carried its scientific experiment payload to an altitude of about 206 miles approximately five minutes after launch before the payload splashed down harmlessly in the Atlantic Ocean around 160 miles from shore. As planned, the payload will not be recovered.

According to Wallops officials, with crystal clear conditions on Tuesday morning, the launch was reportedly visible from Delaware to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and everywhere in between including the Ocean City and Worcester County coastal areas. While the suborbital launch was certainly not the largest or the most visible from Wallops in recent years, the successful launch of the suborbital Black Brant IX on Tuesday signals a continued rebound in Wallops launch activity after a major catastrophe last fall.

Tuesday’s launch was the second from Wallops in the span of about two weeks. On June 25, Wallops launched a suborbital Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket carrying student experiments. The next launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility will be a suborbital Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket scheduled to go up in the early morning hours on Aug. 11, continuing an expanded launch program after the accident last October.

Last fall, NASA’s private sector partner Orbital Science attempted the launch of an Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Antares, which measured about 131 feet, or about 13 stories high, went up as planned, but the mission was aborted just seconds after liftoff when problems with the launch were detected. There were two explosions, both of which shook houses and rattled windows across the Lower Shore, as the Antares was purposely blown up and fell back to the launch pad.

In the months since, NASA and Wallops officials have recovered and resumed launch activities at the flight facility as evidenced by the two launches this week and in late June. Clearly, the federal government continues to invest in the Wallops Flight Facility with an eye on the future of its launch program. Just two weeks ago, on the eve of the 70th anniversary celebration for Wallops, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) announced the 2016 federal spending bill includes a $7 million investment in the Wallops Island Flight Facility’s launch complex. With the dismantling of the space shuttle program, Wallops has taken on greater importance in the nation’s space program in recent years with several significant launches.

As a result, the Wallops Island Flight Facility has expanded its operations creating hundreds of new meaningful and well-paying government and private sector jobs across the Lower Shore including Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset. The expanded presence at Wallops has also created millions of dollars in direct and indirect economic impact on the Lower Shore.

With the influx of federal funding, Wallops has flourished in recent years with several significant orbital and suborbital launches each year. There has been some tourism-based economic benefit as visitors have flocked to various points along the shore to view the larger launches including Ocean City and Assateague, for example.

Surprise Project Causes Route 90 Backups; Contractor Failed To Alert SHA Ahead Of Time

OCEAN CITY — The unexpected back-ups reported on Route 90 throughout the morning on Wednesday were caused by the final phase of a paving project along the highway this spring.

The State Highway Administration (SHA) this spring hired a private contractor to repave a long section of Route 90 heading into Ocean City. The contractor returned on Wednesday to replace a loop detector in the roadway at St. Martin’s Neck Rd. A loop detector is essentially a sensor embedded in the road surface to indicate to the traffic signal at Route 90 and St. Martin’s Neck when motorists are stopped so the signal understands when to move to the next phase.

The project was expected to continue on Thursday, but as of late Wednesday afternoon the project was postponed until next week at the earliest due to materials not being available.

Ordinarily, SHA gets information out early to the public about road projects and possible delays, but SHA officials said on Wednesday they weren’t aware the private contractor was returning to replace the loop detector on Route 90 this week.

The issue is being addressed and in the meantime, the SHA maintenance shop is making sure there is appropriate signage in the area to warn motorists about possible delays and lane closures.

The city has reportedly been informed by SHA that as of Thursday morning the work will resume next week, but unlike this week notification will be made through the media as well as on area signage. Although exact date of the work was unclear as of deadline, SHA has told the city the remaining work will be completed at night and mid-week.

Salp Blooms In Ocean Likely A Combination Of Natural Factors

Photo by Chris Parypa

ASSATEAGUE — The invasion of thumbnail-sized, clear little jellies that raided the beaches at Assateague and in Ocean City to some degree last weekend continued this week, but the creatures are harmless and pose no danger to swimmers in the resort area.

Last week, thousands of tiny blobs of clear gelatinous creatures appeared in the ocean and on the beaches in Assateague and Ocean City, creating quite a stir for the countless visitors to the resort area on the busy holiday weekend. The ocean was thick with them and they washed up on the beaches in great numbers, but while the scope of the outbreak was somewhat rare, it is actually a natural phenomenon that should be enjoyed and not feared.

The creatures are called salps, and they belong to a small category of gelatinous invertebrates generally lumped into a large group called jellyfish.

National Aquarium General Curator Jack Cover just happened to be on vacation at Assateague last weekend and has vast knowledge about the salps as well as first-hand experience now.

“I actually had firsthand experience with them this weekend,” he said. “I was swimming with them and walking on them.”

Cover said a combination of winds and tides likely drove the salps closer to shore and when they found an abundant food source, the population exploded, creating waves of the small jellies in the ocean and on the beach.

“They belong to a category of what we call jellyfish, which is basically anything gelatinous,” he said. “Salps are just one little group of a much larger family and they are actually what we call a macro-plankton. They are filter feeders and have no stingers. They are little, clear barrels with water pumping through them and they feed on plankton.”

Assateague Island National Seashore Assistant Chief of Interpretation and Education Liz Davis has also been following the outbreak of salps on the barrier island this week. She agreed the phenomenon is likely tied to a variety of natural factors.

“Salp blooms can be directly tied to plankton blooms in the ocean,” she said. “When food is abundant, the salps can quickly and easily reproduce. When that happens, there are too many salps and not enough food to go around and they start to die off. So, this could be a typical case of population cycling.”

Davis said the salp bloom seemed to peak over the weekend, although the phenomenon had not abated as of Thursday.

“It’s still going on,” she said. “They’re not as abundant as a few days ago. Winds and tides play a role, as does where they are in the population cycle. It’s pretty cool.”

Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips has also experienced the salp invasion first hand.

“They’re pretty cool,” she said. “I love the way the washed up ones glitter like broken glass on the beach, but swimming in what feels like tapioca is not exactly enjoyable.”

Cover agreed the while salps are harmless in great numbers they can create a rather different texture in the water.

“When there are waves of them like we’ve seen this week, the water takes on kind of a milky texture,” he said. “Again, they are harmless, but the coating of them on the beach can be really slippery.”

Cover said the abundance of micro-plankton, which is the salp’s primary food source, close to shore is largely responsible for the outbreak.

“They’re opportunistic,” he said. “If there is a lot of food, they have the potential to reproduce quickly in big numbers. That’s what we’re seeing at Assateague and at Ocean City to a large degree. They’re mainly offshore, but when the Gulf Stream comes closer to shore, which is essentially like Route 95 in the ocean, strong inshore winds can push them in closer to the beach and they just go with the flow. The current and winds kind of dictate where they go and that’s why we’re seeing them on the beaches.”

Cover said the salp outbreak, while interesting, poses no threat to swimmers except for the inconvenience of walking on them or wading through them in the ocean.

“It’s not highly unusual, but this so-called bloom is pretty big,” he said. “People were freaking out, but there is no way they can harm you. Probably the biggest danger is slipping on them while walking on the beach. They’re just little chunks of gelatin. Naturally, there are a lot of animals in the ocean and occasionally humans get to see them up close and personal. We should take it as an opportunity to learn about something we maybe haven’t encountered before.”

Cover said given their druthers, the salps would rather not be in close to shore in the first place.

“For most of these little guys, it’s a bad day for any gelatinous animals when they get this close to the beach because the surf just breaks them up,” he said. “Who knows how long it will last. They’re like little jellies bobbing in the ocean and there’s not much mass to them.”

Unlike some of their cousins in the jellyfish family, the salps do not have any potential to harm swimmers. Cover said there have been sightings of other potentially dangerous jellies in and around the resort area recently.

“Another peculiar thing is that someone sent us a picture of a Portuguese Man O’ War from the beach in Ocean City,” he said. “That’s very rare. Obviously, they have stingers and wouldn’t be anything you would want to mess with.”

The National Aquarium in Baltimore this spring opened its new Living Seashore exhibit, which includes many of creatures that inhabit the waters in and around the resort area. Cover said recent unusual activity has created an opportunity for residents and visitors to learn first-hand about them in their own back yard.

“There are a lot of things out there, like the hammerheads we saw down there recently,” he said. “We recently opened our Living Seashore exhibit and some of these things are included. There is a big variety of critters out there and everything on or around the beach has a story to tell.”

While the salp outbreak at Assateague and Ocean City this week is likely largely due to a combination of natural factors, everything that happens on land in and around the ocean and bays contributes to the larger circle of life in the ocean and bays.

“There is a lot of human activity that directly or indirectly contributes to over-fertilizing the ocean,” he said. “With nutrient run-off in the bays and tributaries, we are creating blooms of algae and massive die-offs in the tributaries. The things that feed off that are also over-populating. It’s causing the blue ocean to turn green.”

Woman Recalls Being Impaled By Beach Umbrella Five Years Ago This Week

Woman

OCEAN CITY — Five years ago this week, a Baltimore woman was severely injured when she was impaled by a flying beach umbrella on the beach in Ocean City, providing the backdrop of a reminder about the importance of properly installing the shade providers.

On June 30, 2010, Lynn Stevens was enjoying a windy but hot summer day on the beach with her family in the area of the Gateway Grand when a beach umbrella in her vicinity was lifted high in the area by a gust of wind and came plummeting back to the ground at a high rate of speed. The spiked end of the umbrella pole impaled Stevens’ thigh and nearly severed a major artery.

“It was a very windy day and the umbrella was lifted straight up in the air,” said Stevens this week as she recounted the incident five years ago. “It came straight back down and went through my thigh. The pole went into my leg about four inches and it just missed my femoral artery. It didn’t tumble like you see them do so often. Instead, it went straight up and came straight down.”

The Ocean City Beach Patrol and Ocean City EMTs responded quickly and began a rather unusual treatment of Stevens.

“It took four men to hold the umbrella steady in the wind to prevent it from doing more damage,” she said. “They literally sawed off the pole right there on the beach and left about a 12-inch length of the pole sticking out of my leg. They took me to PRMC and the rest of it was taken out in the operating room. It was a little unnerving because the nurses and doctors looked a little astonished to see the umbrella pole sticking out of my leg because I figured they had probably seen everything.”

Stevens said she spent three days in the hospital recovering from the injury. She later attempted to locate the EMTs that cared for her initially on the beach in order to thank them. While the severity of her beach umbrella injury five years ago this week was somewhat unusual, it certainly isn’t unusual for beachgoers to be struck and injured by flying umbrellas. Because of the ever-changing and often windy conditions on the beach and improperly installed beach umbrellas, there are dozens of cases nearly every day. Some are worse than others, but nearly all of them are preventable.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol responds to medical emergencies caused by flying beach umbrellas almost every day throughout the summer and some, including Stevens’ case, are serious enough to require an emergency services response. According to the OCBP, it is almost never the person who owns the umbrella that gets hit, but rather an unsuspecting person nearby. The accidents can often be prevented and are essentially caused by an umbrella that was not properly set in the sand to begin with.

While there are obvious public safety issues with improperly set beach umbrellas, there are often legal ramifications, according to the beach patrol. The owner of a flying umbrella can be held responsible for any injury caused to another person. For that reason, the beach patrol will offer advice for properly setting an umbrella, but will not install an umbrella for beachgoers. Similarly, beach stand operators know how to set an umbrella properly and adjust them to the prevailing conditions, but if a renter moves the umbrella on their own, they can be held legally responsible for any damages they cause.

With all that said, there are some common sense beach umbrella installation techniques that will make a day at the beach safer for everybody. When setting the umbrella, simply jabbing it into the sand is not enough. Instead, jab to sharpened end of the pole into the sand and rock the entire umbrella back and forth until 18 to 24 inches of the pole are firmly into the beach. Another flawed technique is attempting to screw the umbrella pole into the sand.

Another tip is to make sure the umbrella is tilted into the wind. That will prevent a gust from getting under the umbrella and lifting it suddenly, as was the case with Stevens’ incident. Again, common sense should prevail in most cases. If it is an unusually windy day, take the umbrella down and don’t leave it unattended. If one goes in for lunch, or into the ocean for a swim or down the beach for a walk, take the umbrella down and put it back up upon returning.

The beach patrol will often warn beachgoers of high wind conditions, just as they issue warning about rip currents or other potential hazards. It is also important to remember to set umbrellas behind the lifeguard stands. Umbrellas set east of the imaginary line between lifeguard stands can impede the sight lines for the beach patrol and its ability to survey the water. If setting an umbrella before the lifeguards come on duty, always remember to set them a few yards behind the high tide line.