PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- With the summer in full swing, now is the perfect time to take a break from your busy schedules and enjoy some of the spectacular outdoor recreation opportunities that are on offer just outside the Presidio gates. And nothing epitomizes summer in Monterey as a day on one of the local beaches.

As residents of possibly the most scenic stretch of coastline in the world, it is an obligation not only educate yourself on how to safely enjoy this natural treasure but also to learn how to be good custodians so others may continue to enjoy it as well.

Monterey County offers 99 miles of coast that stretches from the bluffs at Big Sur to the towering dunes in Marina and northward. Among the myriad of beaches there are people having picnics, sunbathing, surfing and even paragliding--watch them from Marina State Beach.

While a usual summer crowd at the beach will be a pleasant mix of tourists and local residents, not everyone knows the hidden risks that are found along our coastline or how to properly care for the beaches.

BEAUTIFUL BUT DANGEROUS

The ocean can be an amazing playground for the young and old alike, but the waters around Monterey also come with some built-in hazards. Large surf, cold water, submerged rocks, rip currents and undertows commonly occur along the coast.

Know your level of expertise and assess ocean conditions before entering the water and be wary of "rogue waves" that can carry you out to sea while at the water's edge.

Pay extra attention at beaches where the sand is heavily sloped at the water's edge. One such beach, Monastery Beach in Carmel, has been the sight of many drowning deaths and even more injuries in past years. Pay attention to those warning signs on beaches.

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, remain calm and do not try and swim against it; instead swim to the side (parallel to the shore) or wait for it to dissipate before attempting to swim to shore at a different location. The safest thing is to not enter the ocean alone; bring along someone to watch your back.

More detailed ocean safety information may be found at http://tiny.cc/zp0nhw

FAMOUS FOG

Coastal fog is a common occurrence in Monterey, especially in the months of June and July when the warm summer air interacts with the much colder Pacific waters. But in a case of "what you can't see can hurt you," don't get fooled by the haze--the sun is still shinning somewhere above it. Sunburn is caused by overexposure of the skin to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light, and fog does not act as a good UV filter. Even on foggy days at the beach remember to bring sunscreen.

SEA LIFE

We are lucky enough to share our beaches and ocean with a diverse group of sea life that live and travel through the Monterey Bay.

On any given day you may spot sea lions, seals, sea otters, dolphins and whales along the coast. Be respectful of the local wildlife and keep your distance, the Marine Mammal Protection Act makes it illegal to harm or harass any marine mammal.

Another common visitor to our waters that goes largely unseen is the great white shark. While attacks on humans are rare by this ocean predator, they have happened locally, and it is good to stay aware of the possibility that they may be present.

BONFIRES

Having a bonfire at the beach is a great experience, especially when things turn colder in the evenings, but fires are not allowed at all beaches.

Certain beaches, including all Monterey City beaches, require bonfires to be contained in a city-provided fire place or fire ring.

A couple of things to remember when building bonfires at the beach are to remove all nails, screws or other metal from wood prior to burning. As the wood burns these items fall and become buried in the sand creating a danger to beachgoers.

Also, absolutely do not bury your coals.

Coals may remain hot for an extended period of time and unsuspecting people may get burned when walking on or digging near sand heated by hidden burning coals.

PETS ON BEACHES

Many of our local beaches are designated "dog friendly," allowing you to bring your four-footed best friend with you for a day frolicking by the ocean.

However, make sure you always come prepared to clean up after your dog when "nature calls." There are some treasures people just would not want to find when digging in the sand.

Different beaches have different requirements on the use of leashes so be sure to do a little research beforehand and follow all signs posted at beach entrances. A good rule of thumb for allowing dogs off the leash at permitting beaches is that they are responsive to voice commands and remain in close proximity to be able to hear them.

TRASH

Not leaving your trash on the beach is one of the easiest things you can do to keep the sands beautiful and help protect the coastal environment.

While most people would not purposefully litter on the beaches, you may find that quite often the beaches get windy. Loose trash and articles can easily blow away, so secure your belongings, and, if something gets loose in the wind, chase it down.

Do not extinguish or leave cigarette butts at the beach. According to the NOAA website, "as of April 2012, volunteers participating in the annual beach litter removal event, International Coastal Cleanup, have collected 52.9 million cigarette butts. Consistently the No. 1 piece of litter found, cigarette butts represent an astounding 32 percent of total debris items gathered during those 25 years."

Do not bring glass bottles to the beach, bottles occasionally will break. Glass bottle are illegal at most Monterey beaches, as shards of broken glass are easily stepped on by barefoot beachgoers and may result in severe injury.

If you do happen to see a piece of trash or broken glass while at the beach, be a good steward and take a moment to pick it up and put it where it rightfully belongs.

SAND DUNES

The Monterey coast is home to some magnificent sand dunes, some of the largest occurring along the beaches that were once part of the former Fort Ord.

While these sand dunes may look inviting to climb and play on, make sure to look for and follow instructions on all posted signs. Much of the Monterey sand dunes have been designated off limits for beachgoers to help protect the local wildlife habitat.

A variety of plants and animals, such as the threatened western snowy plover, call these sand dunes home and are extremely sensitive to human traffic.

In addition, sand dunes may present a danger for accidental burying, especially if digging into the sides. In 2008, an 11-year-old boy was killed at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz when a sand dune collapsed on him and two other boys. More recently in 2011, a 17-year-old was left in a permanent vegetative state after being trapped in a collapsed sand dune tunnel in Watsonville.

WATER POLLUTION

Lastly, there are ways you can help keep the beaches pristine and ocean waters clean even when spending the day at home or away from the beach. Despite an increased community awareness and stenciling campaign, many people do not realize that storm drains scattered throughout the city streets drain directly to our oceans and waterways and are a leading cause of ocean pollution.

Cigarette butts, trash, animal feces, pesticides and automobile fluids can find their way to creeks, rivers and oceans through storm drains. Be aware of what you are leaving on the streets and sidewalks, these same things might be what you or your child is swimming in during your next visit to the beach.

(Editor's note: Erik Landry has been a Monterey District State Parks life guard and peace officer for more than 20 years.)

Page last updated Fri July 20th, 2012 at 00:00