Virginia Beach water clear of sea lice – for now

Posted at 2:56 PM, Jul 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-12 18:31:05-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Swimmers are back enjoying the water after being forced from the waves earlier this week. News 3 saw people running to the showers on Thursday, saying they were stung by something.

The culprit? Sea lice.

On Friday, lifeguards say the water appeared to be clear of the pests.

"Today we have a west wind, and when cooler water comes up to the top, it is pushing some of it out," explained Tom Gill with the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service.

Staff at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach say sea lice are actually blue crab larvae. They are translucent and extremely small, but their pincers are just big enough to irritate people's skin.

They are in our water every year, but water temperature and current direction determine when and how many we see each year.

"They are around from July into the fall. August tends to be when they are most abundant. Blue crab eggs are continuously hatching once the water warms to 70, so you would expect to see sea lice in July. There is nothing unusual about them close to shore at this time of year," explained Chris Witherspoon with the Virginia Aquarium.

"In the life cycle of the blue crab, eggs hatch at the Chesapeake Bay mouth in late spring and surface currents push it into the ocean. The sea lice sink to the bottom and ride bottom currents back to the Chesapeake Bay, where they need to be in order to develop into young crabs. When and where sea lice appear is connected to the timing of their life cycle (when the water first gets warm enough for eggs to form- around 70 degrees) and variation in the currents that move the sea lice."

While they are irritating, aquarium staff says sea lice is a good thing for people who like to eat blue crabs.

"Anyone who enjoys eating steamed blue crabs should welcome the sea lice," Witherspoon said. "It takes a lot to survive the journey and avoid predators for us to have adult blue crabs to harvest. Somewhere around one out of every 500,000 blue crab eggs will become an adult crab. Without sea lice appearing along shore and in the Bay each summer, there would be no blue crabs here."

While sea lice appear to be clear from the water for now, it's possible that they will return this summer. If you come in contact with sea lice, lifeguards say to rinse your skin and bathing suit with fresh water.

"If it does happen to you and you start itching really bad, the best thing to do is get to your hotel room and take the suit off and get it rinsed out," said Gill. "When they are in there, they can be very difficult to get out without taking suit off of you and rinsing off completely."