A few health and safety tips when swimming in Tobago
The seas around Tobago are at their calmest, and warmest, between June and August and the very best months are considered to be between June and August. However, the sea temperature is warm throughout the year. The eastern Atlantic coast of Tobago is by far the roughest and will only appeal to the very strongest swimmers. The western Caribbean coast is far more sheltered.
As anywhere in the world, the seas offshore can be subject to strong currents. Swimming should only be undertaken with great care and never attempted alone. Due to their isolated and deserted nature, very few beaches on Tobago have lifeguards. Some beaches display warning flags, with red flags indicating unsafe bathing areas and yellow and white flags indicating safer areas.
Ear infections can be a fairly common complaint with holidaymakers. Our ears are not used to constant and repeated immersion and this can cause the canal going down the middle part of the ear to become soggy and damaged. The warm tropical waters are rich in nutrients and teaming with life, so if the ear canal is damaged, bacteria and fungi can create an infection. The problem, often known as 'swimmer's ear', is easily avoided. The most important thing is to ensure that you thoroughly dry your ears after coming out of the water. A good cheap precaution is to augment the body's own protection by applying olive-oil drops each morning and evening. These are water-repellent, moisturising and will not irritate the ears. If you get an infection, any local pharmacist will provide ear drops that quickly clear (or prevent) the condition. There is divided opinion on the use of earplugs. One school of thought dictates that anything poked in the ear is likely to cause damage, so careful drying and the use of olive-oil drops is likely to be a much more comfortable, effective and less intrusive precaution.
PLEASE only use biodegradable suntan oil. It is much less damaging to the environment. Just think of the effects of all the tourist who visit Tobago slapping oil all over themselves and then dashing into the sea, effectively washing a large part of the oil off. It must be like a small tanker running aground. A year’s slick of suntan oil can potentially cause a lot of damage to the reefs, so please, please use biodegradable suntan oil. We use and recommend UltraSun.
While on the beach, keep a lookout for manchineel trees because the fruit and sap is highly poisonous. These attractive trees provide lots of shade and visitors not knowing about them may well decide to use the tree for shade. They grow to over 30 feet and have small bright green leaves with yellow stems. The fruit are like tiny green crabapples. The sap from the tree causes painful blisters to the skin, and temporary blindness and terrible pain if it gets into the eyes. It is essential not to stand under one of these trees in a rainstorm or even to handle wood from the tree, such as when preparing a barbeque, because even the smoke from the wood can be dangerous. If you do get any sap on your skin, wash it off in the sea as quickly as possible. Manchineel trees have been destroyed on most popular beaches, but can still be found near the beach in many more isolated bays.
One final note: Nude or topless sunbathing is illegal in Tobago. Many locals find this practice highly offensive and visitors who disrespect their feelings are likely to find themselves wasting good sunbathing time chatting to the local constabulary. Please also remember to cover-up when leaving the beach. So, no nude bathing or topless sunbathing and cover up when off the beach!