Martha’s Vineyard beach reopens after closure due to Portuguese man-of-war concerns

As blistering heat afflicts the state today, the sea might seem the best place to be. But officials on Martha’s Vineyard are cautioning beachgoers to beware the painful stings of the Portuguese man-of-war.

South Beach in Edgartown was closed at around 11 a.m. Wednesday due to a flurry of man-of-wars, purplish balloon-like creatures, spotted at the beach, said Marilyn Wortman, Edgartown parks administrator.

The beach reopened at about 9:20 a.m. today. But the parks department is cautioning beachgoers to look closely for the creatures and emphasizing that people are swimming at their own risk.

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“We have warned you, but we can’t stop you from going in the water,” Wortman said “We just caution people to watch where they are swimming.”

At least 12 man-of-wars were scooped up off South Beach Wednesday, and a male and female lifeguard patrolling the beach were both stung. Both lifeguards needed hospitalization for their stings but were released that evening, Wortman said.

Wortman said she believed man-of-wars were floating all along the southern coast of the island.

Gary Tripp, assistant harbormaster at Westport on the south coast of the state, said he had received a report of a man-of-war sighting in the Westport River within the last week.

The man-of-wars are coming close to shore because of the direction of currents and winds on the Massachusetts coast, said Steve Melo, harbormaster in neighboring Dartmouth.

“They are moving with the winds and the current,” Melo said. “Their inflatable bladder catches the wind, which brings them close to shore.”

Man-of-war stings are known to be painful and long-lasting, though reactions vary, Melo said.

“Variable human conditions might have someone in dire straits after a sting, while someone else will only be mildly inconvenienced,” Melo said.

No beaches have been closed in the Westport or Dartmouth areas, Tripp and Melo said.