Originally Printed in Surfing Magazine.)
They’re the pesky creatures that dagger, sting, cerate and ruin your limbs and your surf sessions. One unlucky puncture can ruin an entire summer’s surfing. So, whether you’re dodging stonefish or shuffling along a ray-infested sandbar, we’ve got you covered (and, no, we’re not talking Aquasocks.) Here’s how to keep the venom from your veins, straight from the hardest-shredding Doc out there, Dr. Bryan Doonan.
Where: Chances are, if the water isn’t ice cold, you’re running the possibility of finding jellies.
How to Avoid: Don’t touch their tentacles, even if they’re dead. Keep your eyes peeled when paddling. What They Do: They actually have tiny tubes that inject toxins into you, but they do it multiple times. Their sting causes itching and welts that can last up to seven days. Some people react to the poison similarly to poison oak. Treatment: Vinegar will inactivate the toxin and inhibit the discharge. Topical steroids, like Cortisone Cream, and ice also help. Myths: Don’t shower off with freshwater. This causes the tentacles that may still be on you to inject all its stingers. The stingers are activated by physical or chemical stimuli, i.e. freshwater to saltwater change.
Where: Shallow, sandy beach break. They often infest Southern California beaches during the summer months, which is their mating season. Typically found near river mouths or anywhere the water is a degree or two warmer. How to Avoid: The stingray shuffle. Shuffle your feet along the sand instead of stomping down. This scares them off.
What They Do: First, they injure you with a wound (generally on your heel or toe), then they inject venom from the stinger, and lastly they cause a nasty infection. In some cases, the stinger can break off and become implanted in your foot. Treatment: Remove stinger (if necessary). Inactivate the toxin as quickly as possible – otherwise, expect a few hours of excruciating pain. The best way to do this is hot water (as hot as you can stand), which de-natures the protein toxin. Sterile strip the wound, but don’t suture it closed. Myths: Do not ice it. Icing keeps the venom protein around longer. Also, never suture the wound closed – you can actually sew in the infectionStonefish
Where: Shallow, tropical marine waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Tahiti and Australia are infested with them. How to Avoid: Don’t trudge though lagoons like a tough guy. Paddle across channels – don’t walk. What They Do: Stonefish have a barbed dorsal ridge, which both punctures and poisons. The poison is extremely toxic and can cause tissue death and severe systemic reactions, including anaphylactic shock. (And, yeah, it can kill you.) Treatment: Soak affected area in hot water to deactivate the poison. Make sure you remove any of the stinger left in you. Clean the wound thoroughly. Anti-venom or a local anesthetic injection will relieve some pain. Get to the hospital immediately. Myths: If you cut yourself on the reef and it becomes painful, make sure it’s not a stonefish barb. Because they blend in so well you may think you only have a reef cut, but if it turns out to be a stonefish, you could go into anaphylactic shock.