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Know water conditions to enjoy Guam's waters safely

Heather Colson, 36th Force Support Squadron aquatic director, changes water-condition warning flags at Tarague Beach on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, June 11, 2015. The flags indicate what the current water conditions are at Tarague so Airmen and their families are able to enjoy the beach safely. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexa Ann Henderson/Released)

Heather Colson, 36th Force Support Squadron aquatic director, changes water-condition warning flags at Tarague Beach on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, June 11, 2015. The flags indicate what the current water conditions are at Tarague so Airmen and their families are able to enjoy the beach safely. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexa Ann Henderson/Released)

This infographic lists the four beach warning flags that are flown at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. As of right now, there are no lifeguards down at Tarague but that could change and be a possibility in the future. Swimmers should be wary of dangerous currents and high surf. Conditions can change in an instant, but proper preparations and knowledge of what to do in certain situations can prove to be the defining factor in a life-or-death situation. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Senior Airman Katrina M. Brisbin)

This infographic lists the four beach warning flags that are flown at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. As of right now, there are no lifeguards down at Tarague but that could change and be a possibility in the future. Swimmers should be wary of dangerous currents and high surf. Conditions can change in an instant, but proper preparations and knowledge of what to do in certain situations can prove to be the defining factor in a life-or-death situation. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Senior Airman Katrina M. Brisbin)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- The sun beats down and reflects off the Pacific Ocean as vibrant turquoise waves lap at Guam's shores. It looks like the perfect time to enjoy the water. The beachgoers slip out of their sandals and rush toward the sparkling waves ... but wait. Did anyone check to see what the current water conditions are?

"Water conditions detail the dangers individuals may face when participating in ocean activities," said Tech. Sgt. Lawrence Robinson, 36th Wing Safety Office ground safety technician. "Conditions can vary from dangerous currents, high surf conditions, to dangerous marine life."

Swimmers should be wary of dangerous currents and high surf. Conditions can change in an instant, but proper preparations and knowledge of what to do in certain situations can prove to be the defining factor in a life-or-death situation.

"Water conditions are always changing," Robinson said. "The tides changes four times a day and the weather can change in an instant so it is important to know what the expected conditions will be when planning to spend a day at the beach. Knowing when the tides and weather conditions change will help plan around times when the water is dangerous to swimmers."

Water current changes are one of the most dangerous and unpredictable factors individuals face in Guam's waters.

"Dangerous currents are one of the most hazardous water conditions," Robinson said. "Currents are unpredictable, difficult to detect, and vary in speed. Staying a safe distance from high-current areas can decrease the risk of being caught. The potential for dangerous currents is high all year round and even the most experienced swimmers are at risk of being caught in a current."

Besides unpredictable currents, individuals should also be wary of marine life where, if tampered with, could lead to unexpected or hazardous consequences.

Some examples of marine life to be mindful of in the region include jellyfish, Pacific Man-of-War colonies, lion fish, sea urchins, crown of thorns starfish, and cone snails. Coral can also be harmful if contacted, causing lacerations or scrapes that can lead to severe infection.

Heather Colson, 36th Force Support Squadron aquatic director, said cone snails are the most venomous animal in the waters surrounding the island.

"You could be at the far corner of the buoyed area (at Tarague Beach) and if you get stung by a cone snail, you wouldn't even make it back to the beach," she said. "You would be incapacitated in moments. They are fatal."

So far in 2015, the Air Force has already lost six Airmen to water-related incidents.

"The ocean doesn't care if you live or die," Colson said. "You have to look out for yourself."

While potential conditions pose a threat to beachgoers, it shouldn't keep everyone out of the water. Preparation, planning and knowledge can make all the difference.

"The best way to prepare for unexpected situations is knowledge," Robinson said. "Knowing the steps to take ahead of time can save your life in a dangerous situation. Always have an emergency plan and never swim alone. If conditions change unexpectedly, exit the water immediately. If you are unable to exit the water, call or signal for help."

There are multiple tools in place to help individuals discern the current water conditions on Andersen.

One such tool is the warning flag system at Tarague, which includes a green flag meaning the water conditions are safe and there is a lifeguard on duty. As of right now, Colson said, there are no lifeguards down at Tarague but that could change and be a possibility in the future. The system also includes a yellow flag meaning individuals are allowed to swim at their own risk, and a red flag meaning there is no lawful water entry allowed. The supplementary purple flag occasionally seen flying in addition to the main flags means there is a jellyfish presence in the water.

Other experts and agencies observing conditions include meteorologists, the U.S. Coast Guard, Guam National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Guam Visitors Bureau.
Current water conditions can be found at noaa.gov or by calling 2-1-1. Both resources provide current data on water conditions as well as advisories that may be in effect.

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