One of the highlights of going to a vacation to a tropical destination such as Maldives is to enjoy the pristine blue waters and all its natural beauty. Swimming, snorkeling, diving and other water sports often bring you in contact with marine animals. From jellyfish to sea urchin spines, most of us may have an unpleasant encounter with marine life at some point. Being aware about the common injuries and how to avoid them as well as when to seek medical assistance can help you fully enjoy exploring the ocean and what it has to offer.
Marine injuries usually occur due to two main reasons. Either we provoke the marine animals by getting too close or harassing them or we don’t pay enough attention to the surrounding and accidently get in contact with hazardous animals. A better understanding of the types of marine injuries will guide us towards the right treatment.
Common Marine injuries can be classified into three major types
1. Contact toxins – stings caused by jellyfish, coral, sponges, and sea urchins
2. Injected toxins – envenomation caused by stingrays, scorpionfish, and cone snails
3. Bites by predators like barracudas, moray eels, sea snakes, and sharks for most injuries. First aid treatment is sufficient as discussed.
It is often known as the most common marine life injuries. Symptoms may vary from person to person which includes numbness, rash with itchiness or pain. Treatment should be swift to reduce the number of nematocyst stings. Use a glove to remove the tentacles and wash with sea water. DO NOT use fresh water as it may trigger the nematocysts to discharge their venom. Majority of jelly fish stings can be neutralized with vinegar with the exception of Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish which gets activated by vinegar. Afterwards a heat pack can be applied to reduce the pain with oral painkillers.
Sea urchins are covered in sharp, venom coated spines. It is important to immerse under warm water for 30 to 60 minutes to relieve the pain. Spine removal can be controversial and challenging as one must be wary not to push it in further. After which topical antibiotics and pain killers can be used. The first aid management for Stonefish, Scorpion fish and Lionfish is also same as that of sea urchins.
Many injuries are reported due to people stepping on stingrays. Individual reactions can vary but often include intense pain, nausea, and weakness. First aid treatment is same as that of Sea urchins. However if a spine is embedded in the skin, it’s generally best to leave removal to medical professionals.
Corals and bites
Cuts and bites due to stepping on or being in contact with corals and aquatic animals are also common. It is important to apply direct pressure to prevent bleeding and wash with fresh water to remove any remaining coral fragment or debris. An antiseptic can be used to clean the wound thoroughly and a sterile dressing can be done with topical or oral antibiotics depending on the nature of injury. It is important to keep an eye out for any redness, itching, excess pus or swelling as this may be a sign of infection.
While most marine life injuries are non-life threatening it is important to seek medical assistance if you experience one of the following symptoms: swelling around the site with intense pain, difficulty in breathing, chest pain, loss of consciousness, and severe bleeding or convulsions.
Marine injuries can be prevented by wearing protective clothes and swimming gear as well following one fundamental rule, “Don’t touch and be aware”. It is also important to ensure that your routine immunization is up to date including protection against tetanus. A little caution in the water will go a long way in ensuring a pleasant holiday experience.