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Avoid burns, bites at beaches this holiday weekend

July 4 brings crowds to Jacksonville beaches; shark bites a concern for some

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Thousands have already flocked to Jacksonville's beaches for an early start on the Fourth of July holiday weekend, and the next two days are expected to be even busier.

Lifeguards are urging people to be careful, because big crowds and hot temperatures could cause issues.

"We are going to have a hot day with a big crowd," said Capt. Rob Emahiser, with Jax Beach Ocean Rescue. "People are going to be overdoing it, so we want people to take it easy, make sure that they stay hydrated."

Every year, the lifeguards, police officers and firefighters out to keep everyone safe see big issues with people drinking too much alcohol and not enough water.

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Children also tend to wander away and get lost in big crowds, especially after the sun goes down.

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For parents coming out to the beach with their children, lifeguards and police officers will have wristbands  with a place to write the parents' name and phone numbers that can then be put on the children. That way, if a child gets lost, authorities can call the parents right away.

The ocean will be relatively calm this weekend, but the surf might pick up.

"There may be enough surf to have small rip currents," Emahiser said. "So always keep an eye on your children."

Another concern for beachgoers this weekend is the rash of sharks attacks up the East Coast.

There have been a number of recent shark attacks off the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina -- 10 in all -- as well as a few off the coast of Florida. That's well above average.

People at the beach said they see sharks every day, but very rarely do the sharks bother anyone.

"You catch them. You are not fishing for them, but they will bite anything, so I see them every day," fisherman Rick McManus said.

Shark researcher Dr. Jim Gelschleiter said attacks increase in the summer near areas where people fish.

"The chances of an attack are still very rare," he said.

Attacks also increase when the waters are packed with swimmers.

"Shark-related injuries are a way of life here in Florida," Gelschleiter said. "Sharks are in the water, and we have to keep in mind that is their home, so whenever we go into the ocean, we are visitors."

Jacksonville Beach lifeguards said they've only had one minor shark bite this year. They said they're not worried that the risk could be higher now.

But they did advise beachgoers to stay away from the pier, stay out areas with a lot of baitfish and to get out of the water if a lifeguard blows a warning whistle.