There are worse ways to spend a warm sunny day than jumping waves and digging your toes in a sandy beach… unless you happen to look over and see a hypodermic needle poking through your beach blanket. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the main reason for beach closings in the U.S. last year was high bacteria levels caused by pollution. Once paradise, the biggest offenders are now better suited for a dystopian movie than for vacations.
Forget about Jaws. At these beaches, sewage spills, street runoff, medical waste, and human fat from liposuction clinics are bigger threats. The only thing worse than narrowly avoiding a floating catheter is the knowledge that not all pollutants are so easily spotted. Swim in the waters off a certain California beach and you’re taking a gamble. If you haven’t had night terrors, relentless itching, and open sores after a few days, consider it a win.
Pollution is far from the only thing waiting to rain on your proverbial sand castle. One beach in China is so overcrowded you have to wade through a sea of chairs before making it to the water, where it’s standing room only. These waterfronts are magnets for sleaze and seediness, beacons for addicts in need of a place to lay their heads - probably not the most romantic setting for a honeymoon stroll. It'd seem that tourism bureaus have their work cut out for them, but these beaches have a perverse pull. Those who can, may feel compelled to go - if only to confirm they live up to their bad reputations.
These 10 notorious beaches offer more than you bargain for when putting on a swim suit. From a distance, a few few look like they belong on postcards, but don’t be fooled - zoom in and you’ll find living razors, hungry predators, or enough medical waste to stock the world's worst hospital.
10 10: Port Phillip Bay, Australia
Melbourne, Australia is a top destination for foodies who like flair. That said, beach-bound visitors intent on checking out Port Phillip Bay will do themselves a favor by going on an empty stomach. According to the city’s website, over 300 stormwater drains empty into the bay from over 7,600 street drainage pits. All litter ends up in the bay, and so does the bacteria growing on that litter.
On the plus side: No sleepy lifeguards here. They’re too busy removing glass and needles from the sand to doze - let alone lookout for swimmers who dare go in the water.
9 9: Repulse Bay, Hong Kong
Some of Hong Kong’s priciest condos are situated along the waterfront of Repulse Bay, a name which in no way tries to disguise the dump this once white-sand beach has become.
Luxury housing usually indicates pristine beaches and swimmable water, not dreary grey sand stained by urban runoff and liposuction fat dumped by nearby clinics.
8 8: Ring of Death, South Africa
With a name like Ring of Death, how can you stay away? Located about 3.5 miles from Cape Town, South Africa, Seal Island is named after the massive amount of seals that live there. “Ring of Death” refers to the great white sharks that, horrifyingly, circle the island then launch themselves straight up in a haunting vertical attack.
Diving in a floating shark cage is the thing to do. Bodysurfing would not be your wisest decision.
7 7: Blackpool, England
Blackpool has all the right pieces for family-friendly good times - rides, food, a water park, seven miles of beach – but they don’t add up to a fun summer getaway - possibly because the drunks keep knocking them over.
Violent crime is almost as high as the excessive alcohol consumption. Scenery includes sloppy fights, people getting high or sick and broken bottles. This is not a place to frolic unless you’re trying to confuse a junkie/would-be mugger. Nap on the beach only if you can sleep with one eye open.
6 6: Santa Monica Pier, USA
The beach by the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles County is a usual suspect on Heal the Bay’s Summer Bummer list of California’s most polluted waterfronts. Urban runoff fills the shoreline with bacteria, contributing to the 600,000 reported cases of gastrointestinal illnesses in the area caused by polluted water.
Oddly, these facts don’t keep locals and tourists alike from swimming in the lovely waves of muck.
5 5: Pattaya, Thailand
In 2010, The New York Times dubbed Pattaya the “Thai city of sleaze”. How did a once small fishing village earn global notoriety? The city’s sex tourism industry started decades ago, when U.S. soldiers came over from Vietnam. Today these activities are supposedly confined to the red-light district, but the round-the-clock merriment of sex shows, brothels and go-go bars has a way of spilling over.
Vendors peddling concessions, chairs, and umbrellas occupy much of the free beach, cramming visitors into small pockets of space continuously swarmed with locals eager to take all your money in exchange for a massage, manicure, dodgy shrimp, rental on an uninsured jet ski – the options end only when you get up to dip a toe in the oily water.
4 4: Teahupo’o, Tahiti
Surfers get a little giddy with equal parts longing and fear at the mention of Teahupo’o Beach in Tahiti, but not because the waters are polluted or the locals want to sell all kinds of sex. The beaches are gorgeous and the water is clean.
It’s the living razors a few feet beneath the surface that’ll make you regret daring to take on one of the world’s heaviest waves. A wipeout is bound to result in carnage - serious injury if not death. The coral reef is only staying true to the island’s name. Teahupo’o loosely translates to “place of skulls” or “sever the head.”
3 3: Hanakapiai Beach, United States
Get your camera ready for a visit to Hanakapiai Beach in Kauai, Hawaii, but don’t bother to put your bathing suit on. Without a reef to protect swimming areas, the open ocean brings powerful riptides known to pull even strong swimmers too far out to sea. Don’t expect a lifeguard to save you, as there aren’t any here.
A sign warning visitors of the dangers provides a running tabulation of lives taken by unseen currents. Note that they’ve left plenty of room for more swimmers who don’t heed the blatant warnings.
2 2: Fujiazhuang Beach, China
Rumor has it that Fujiazhuang is a breath-taking place, but who knows. The actual scenery is impossible to see beneath the overcrowding. Vacationers flock here from Japan, Russia and Korea to enjoy the warm water and pleasant weather, but they likely spend more time in line for the one block of bathrooms than actually swimming (wishfully assuming the bathrooms are the only place people go).
Arrive at sunrise if you don’t want to spend hours stalking a wee bit of blanket space.
1 1: New Smyrna Beach, United States
Shark lovers head to Gansbaai, South Africa, the self-proclaimed great white shark capital of the world, to see the toothy brutes up close, often from the relative safety of a diving cage. Beach-goers ought to be more interested in knowing which beach consistently has the most shark bites each year.
That would be New Smyrna, Florida. This sunny town regularly tops the list for most annual shark attacks in the world. The good news: None of the 238 reported attacks have been fatal; apparently Floridian bull sharks are light snackers.