Ms. Geek Speaks: Florida and Nebraska ‘No swimming’ signs

After the death of a toddler in Orlando, various comments have been made about the meaning of a sign. The sign said: “No Swimming.” The toddler, 2-year-old Lane Graves, was reportedly wading in about a foot of water at night. An alligator attacked the toddler in the water, dragged him deeper and drowned him.

Many comments note that “No Swimming” doesn’t mean no wading and that visitors from Nebraska wouldn’t know better. Visitors from Nebraska to Florida wouldn’t know that alligators could kill their son. Few have asked what should people from Nebraska know. What would a “No Swimming” sign mean for people from Nebraska.

The parents were identified as Matthew Graves, 42, and Melissa Graves, 38, of Elkhorn, Nebraska. Elkhorn is just 21 minutes away from Omaha, Nebraska by car. It isn’t that far from lakes and the Platte River. In Nebraska, “No Swimming” means that the water in lakes could kill your dog or you. The problem isn’t alligators although who knows. Alligators aren’t native to Los Angeles, but a few years back there was a hunt for a large alligator named Reggie, a former pet let loose in a city lake.

In 2004, a dog died after drinking water from Buccaneer Bay, a sandpit lake near the Platte River that is south of Omaha. In 2004, Matthew Graves was 30 years old in that year. The “No Swimming” signs put up mean that “the public is prohibited from full-body contact activities, such as swimming, water skiing, jet skiing, sailboarding and tubing.” Small children and pets were urged not to have contact with the water in those areas where a Health Alert has been issued.

Testing continues and the risk isn’t just from ingesting. “The risks to humans come from external exposure (prolonged contact with skin) and from swallowing the water. Symptoms from external exposure are skin rashes, lesions and blisters. More severe cases can include mouth ulcers, ulcers inside the nose, eye and/or ear irritation and blistering of the lips. Symptoms from ingestion can include headaches, nausea, muscular pains, central abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Severe cases could include seizures, liver failure, respiratory arrest – even death, although this is rare. The severity of the illness is related to the amount of water ingested, and the concentrations of the toxins.”

Testing begins in early May. The two dogs that died 2004 were not small. One was a sheepdog and another a yellow lab.   According to a recent article, testing for toxic algae determines whether “no-swimming” signs are put out. The problem exists not only in Nebraska, but in other states like Minesotta. According to a Lincoln Journal Star article, a 17-year-old Wisconsin boy, Dane Rogers, died from toxic algae. That was in 2002. His two friends suffered milder symptoms from their quick dip in a golf course pool.

Toxic blue-green algae also occurs in Florida, specifically in Orlando. The warm water warnings are the same as for Nebraska and those include:

  • Stay out of the water if “No Swimming” signs are posted.

The problem isn’t that the Orlando hotel didn’t have alligator warnings. Alligator attacks are relatively rare according to a recent article in USA Today. The problem is that there was a “No Swimming” warning and it was ignored by guests. Other articles have suggested that other guests have encouraged the presence of alligators by feeding them, despite there being warnings that feeding alligators and really any wildlife is not a good idea. Feeding alligators is illegal in Florida. This has been a problem at Disney World, but it is not clear what official actions have been taken. Fox News quotes a custodian at the Polynesian Resort Village had reported the alligators were “swimming too close to guests and that a protective fence should be erected” but he also said, “There are signs that say, ‘No swimming,’ but no signs that say gators and everything else in the lake.” Everything else being something besides alligators.

The “No Swimming” sign would cover toxic blue-green algae, alligators, poisonous snakes and brain-eating amoebas. One wonders if during the daytime, if people don’t see snakes or alligators, if they will take a swim and then, if affected by blue-green algae or a brain-eating amoeba, they will be encouraged to sue for lack of signage.

Nebraska may be in the Midwest, but it isn’t without its own natural hazards. Besides the fairly recent problem with toxic blue-green algae bloom, Nebraska also have four kinds of venomous snakes: prairie rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, western massasauga and copperhead. Rattlesnakes do swim. You can find clips on YouTube.

The New York Times doesn’t want you to consider what a “No Swimming” sign means in either Nebraska or Florida. Instead, it paints biased picture writing that “Lane Graves was doing what any 2-year-old boy would be doing on a hot Florida evening — splashing around in the shallow waters of a lagoon. His parents and sister, Nebraskans all, were nearby on the beach at a Disney resort here, relaxing, carefree.” Yet in Nebraska, a toddler should not be playing in waters that have a “No Swimming” sign. Not since 2004.

“No Swimming” signs in Nebraska also mean no wading and the consequences of ignoring them could be death for a toddler. One commentator says that even having an alligator warning would not have been enough for Disney despite over 40 years of without an incident at that particular hotel.

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