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The dangers lurking on our sandy shores

By Alana Jute, IMA Researcher

When the ‘stay at home’ order is lifted and it is once safer to be out and about, many may no doubt head to the beach to soak up some much needed sun, sea and salt.   While we were at home, some dangerous sea creatures would have been lurking in our coastal waters and washing up on our shores so we must be vigilant while at the beach.  Here are some dangerous marine creatures that you may encounter on you next visit to the beach:                                                                                                                                             

  • The Portuguese Man O’ War or as it is locally known, Galey, is a common occurrence along the east coast during the months of March to May. It is often mistaken for a jellyfish because of its pretty pink, purplish balloon like body which can be as much as 12 inches long and 5 inches wide with tentacles that can grow up to 165 feet long. It is, however, more closely related to the fire coral than the jellyfish.  It is a siphonophore, which is a colony of organisms that work together in unison. A venomous creature, it floats on the surface and the water propelled by ocean currents with its tentacles dangling below waters. The Portuguese Man o’ War can sometimes be found along the seashore. Whether in the water or on the shore, its tentacles are venomous. If stung some persons can develop an allergic reaction which could be fatal. Their sting may cause red welts, swelling and moderate to severe pain. Symptoms can last up to three days. If stung, seeking medical advice and care is recommended.
The Portuguese Man O’ War
  • Stonefish are found in rocky or muddy habitats at the bottom of the ocean floor of the Caribbean and the Pacific regions.  They are considered one of the most venomous fishes in the world. They have excellent camouflage; their bodies are typically brown with orange, yellow or red patches, textured to resemble the surrounding rocks or coral.  One could swim past a stonefish and not see it. Their camouflage advantage is put to good use during hunting, as they would wait for fish to swim past unawares, and swiftly pounce on the unsuspecting marine creature swallowing their prey. More than that, the danger to humans, lies in the stonefish’s ability to blend seamlessly into its surroundings. Stonefish have 13 spines lining its back that release venom under pressure. Should one step on a stonefish thinking it’s merely a rock, its dorsal spines will pop up and release venom from two sacs at the base of each spine. The sting results in terrible pain, swelling, necrosis or tissue death and could potentially be fatal.  
  • Fire Corals look like corals but are not corals. They are closely related to the jellyfish, the Portuguese Man o’ War and other stinging anemones. They have a bright yellow-green and brown skeletal covering and are found throughout the Caribbean Sea within coral reef communities. They attach and grow on rocks, corals or pilings. The sting of a fire coral is painful. It is possible to come into contact with the cnidae or stinging threads of the fire coral as they are found on or near the water’s surface. The pain it inflicts is, however, localised and has been described as a burning sensation. 
Fire Corals
  • The lionfish is a popular aquarium fish native to the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean which found its way to the Atlantic Ocean in the 1990s because of the human activity in the aquarium trade. It is considered an Invasive Species.  The lionfish’s brown or maroon colour with white stripes or bands covering the head and body is quite distinctive. They have fleshy tentacles above their eyes and below the mouth, fan-like pectoral fins; 13 separated dorsal spines; 10-11 dorsal soft rays; 3 anal spines; and 6-7 anal soft rays. An adult lionfish can grow as large as 18 inches, while juveniles may be as small as 1 inch or less. They can be found in various marine habitats, such as on the hard bottom of the ocean floor, in seagrass, mangroves, among coral and artificial reefs (such as shipwrecks) in depths of water ranging from less than 1 to 100 metres. The spines of the lionfish can deliver a venomous sting to anyone who touches it. That sting can cause extreme pain which may last for days. Sweating, respiratory distress, and even paralysis have also been known to occur on account of the lionfish’s sting. 
The Lionfish
  • Sea urchins are a group of spiny sea creatures that are related to the starfish and sand dollars. They are grazers, meaning that they feed on the algae on rocks and on the seabed. Therefore, sea urchins are often found on rocky shores, among coral reefs and on seagrass beds. What’s more, they can easily be mistaken for shells or rocks because of their hard, round, spiny bodies, which are dark brown in colour, similar to the colour of the habitats in which sea urchins are found. One can mistakenly step on a sea urchin and get scraped or otherwise injured by the creature’s spines. Injury may be minimal though painful. If one is scrapped by a sea urchin, it is possible for the brittle spines of the creature to break up into smaller pieces within an affected foot (or area of contact) leading to an infection in the skin. Toxins can also be released from the ends of the sea urchins’ spines from glands at the base of the spines.
Sea Urchins
Sea Urchins

So, when next you do get to the beach be aware of your surroundings. Persons, especially young children and the elderly, should be cautious when walking or running along the beach.

Here are a few tips to help you in ensuring your next visit to the beach is not only enjoyable but incident free.

  1. DO NOT TOUCH any creature that may have washed up on the beach or that is found in the water. Notify the lifeguards if there is a creature on the sand.
  2. TALK TO THE LIFEGUARDS, as they are very knowledgeable, and they should be your first point of contact when you arrive on the beach.
  1. BEWARE OF OLD WIVES’ TALES & REMEDIES and do not urinate on the spot where you have been stung as this could make matters worse. 
  1. SEEK MEDICAL CARE If you are stung and experience the following: difficulty in breathing; dizziness and/or disorientation. These symptoms are associated with the toxins in the animal’s venom. Women and children, who may have thinner skin than adult men, might be even more susceptible to severe envenomation (the injection of a poisonous material by sting, spine or bite) as is anyone stung on thinner parts of the skin (such as the hands, feet or inner thighs). 
  1. BE MINDFUL. Wear water shoes and always look where you are walking and placing your feet along the seashore or seafloor to avoid stepping directly on any creatures hidden beneath the sand.