The Best Way to Treat Basic Marine Life Injuries

The most basic rule when it comes to avoiding marine life injuries when diving is “Do not touch”. We should all know very well that when it comes to avoiding damaging the marine environment we should always keep our hands to ourselves when scuba diving – which in turn, is one of the best ways to avoid sustaining injuries underwater. However, we know that in some instances, contact can be unavoidable.

From small coral grazes to nasty jellyfish stings, at some point most of us will have a painful encounter underwater. But remember, the most important thing after such an encounter, is knowing exactly how to react. Within this blog, we take a look at some of the treatment available for several common marine life injuries. In minor cases, the below steps and tips may be all that’s required. In the more severe cases, these steps act as vital first aid when waiting for professional help to arrive.

Jellyfish Stings

What’s the best way to treat jellyfish stings? Well… Ranging from uncomfortable to life-threatening, this all comes down to the severity of the sting depending on several factors – These factors include the species of jellyfish, the body part it has affected, how big the affected area is and also the physiology of the person. Small children and elderly people are more likely to experience aggravated symptoms for example, where in some cases people may have an allergic reaction.

The first step is to remove the victim from the water, as with all other marine life injuries. If it has been identified that the species is a particularly dangerous one, the next step is to alert the emergency services. If the victim experiences severe symptoms which may include breathing difficulty, medical attention will also be required. Try to avoid rubbing the affected area or applying pressure to it directly, as this can potentially cause nematocysts (unfired stinging cells), to release their poison.

The next thing you need to do is irrigate the affected area with some household vinegar. This will help to neutralize the stinging cells and also allows you to be able to remove any visible tentacles without causing any more damage. But make sure you use tweezers or gloves when you remove the tentacles, just as a precaution!

One the tentacles have been removed, rinse the affected area with salt water. This will help to wash away any remaining nematocysts. Avoid using fresh water or even urine! This is commonly mentioned as a replacement for vinegar but will actually trigger the stinging cells.

Finally, to alleviate the pain, apply heat to the affected area. Cool items, such as an ice pack will also help, but it won’t be as effective as heat. Both stinging hydroids and anemone stings can be treated the same way.

Scorpionfish, Lionfish and Stonefish Envenomation

All three of these fish share something in common, venomous spines. Their venomous spines can cause serious injury to divers by penetrating the skin. It is recommended that professional medical attention is sought after envenomation of both lionfish and stonefish and depending on severity of the victim’s reaction for scorpionfish too.  In some cases, anti-venom is used to treat stonefish related injuries. For all three marine life injuries, first aid is the same.

First things first, remove the victim from the water. After call for medical help, carefully using a pair of tweezers remove any visible spine fragments from the wound. Once clean, soak the wound in hot water for around 30 to 90 minutes, or until the arrival of medical help. The water should be as hot as the victim can tolerate, without scalding. The heat will break down the proteins in the venom which will cause it to deactivate. If the wound proves difficult to soak and is located either on the head or torso, apply hot cloths instead.

Sea Urchins

The recommended treatment for marine life injuries caused by sea urchin spines is the same which applies to that of Scorpionfish, Lionfish and Stonefish Envenomation. Sea urchin spines are in most cases very fragile and great care must be administered so they do not break when removing them from the skin. If you are unable to remove a spine or if the injury punctures near to a joint, be sure to seek professional medical help. Failure to treat the wound properly, can lead to loss of joint function which could be due to nerve damage.

Fire Coral Stings

Unlike the name suggests, the fire coral is not actually a true coral. Instead this animal is an anemone-like organism that inflicts a nasty sting and should be treated the same way as a jellyfish sting. In more severe cases, and in the event of an allergic reaction to a fire coral sting, emergency medical attention may be required.

Identifying the sting of a fire coral can be a little tricky, especially as symptoms can take as long as up to 30 minutes to take effect and present themselves. Keep an eye out for a stinging, burning sensation which is accompanied by a raised red rash. The pain can be treated with either over the counter painkiller or by using an anesthetic cream.

Coral Abrasions

Coral abrasions and cuts have a very lengthy healing time and can also become infected very easily. This is due to the living organisms within the coral structures causing the wound to contaminate, making the injury much more severe than a sustained graze on land.

The first step to treating this marine injury is to stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound. Once the bleeding has stopped, use fresh water (not salt water) to flush the area clean. The fresh water will help to remove lose coral fragments, and will ensure that no other organisms remain on the wound which could cause further infection.

Next, using an antibacterial soap or hydrogen peroxide mixed with water, wash the wound. After it has been washed, treat the wound with an antibiotic cream and seal it with a non-adhesive dressing. Make sure the dressing is changed regularly and seek further professional medical attention should an infection occur.

Animal Bites

Although it is very rare for marine life to attack unless provoked, animal bites can happen. The severity of this marine related injury depends largely on the size of the animal which has inflicted it. As you can imagine, a nip from a triggerfish would clearly be a lot easier to handle than a shark bite. Having said that, the basic first aid for most bites, and for most bleeding wounds is the same.

As always, first things first, remove the victim from the water. Then, if the bite is serious call the emergency services straight away.

Once the emergency services have been called, apply direct pressure to the wound to help stop the bleeding. If the bleeding continues, use more bandages on top of the injury rather than removing the first one and alleviating the pressure. If the wound is located on a limb, such as an arm or leg, hold it above heart level. Once a wound is held above heart level this will reduce the blood flow to the affected areas and also minimize blood loss. Another key factor to remember is shock, especially for major bites. If the victim is experiencing breathing difficulty, you should be prepared to administer oxygen.

If the wound seems minor and doesn’t require any stitches, wait until the bleeding stops and then rinse the affected area with fresh water thoroughly. After it has been rinsed, apply antiseptic cream and seal the wound by using a non-adhesive dressing. Keep your eye on it and ensure that it doesn’t get infected.


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