When heading off to tropical destinations for reef diving during this summer it’s difficult to imagine there being any risk or hazard associated with the reef. In terms of diving tropical reefs are often some of the safest places to explore and dive. Many of the accidents which occur are usually connected with diving procedures and equipment rather than encounters with dangerous marine life. Despite this it is wise to be aware of, and avoid, certain species or situations that can lead to injury or (rarely) death.
The reef is a very crowded place where the inhabitants must compete for space and food. Much of life on the reef revolves around eating and avoiding being eaten. There are many mechanisms for catching food and also to avoid being eaten or grown over, including the ability to sting or bite for defence and offence, and the use of chemicals that poison or deter potential attackers.
If divers happen to touch animals that deploy toxins or get in the way of a fish with large and sharp teeth, needless to say, you will regret it. Heat or vinegar are often a good form of medicine to stings because they denature the poison.
SHARKS – A big one is sharks. If you live in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Jaws was set then you’re in grave danger. Otherwise (as long as you’re not spearfishing or carrying bait) you’ll be fine. Also, don’t try to ‘attract’ sharks. A friend of mine showed me the following video where the divers were attracting sharks with plastic bottles that create vibrations and sounds that attract sharks.
STINGRAYS – it often shocks people when I tell them that stingrays can be dangerous, but the clue is in the name 😉 Stingrays will only sting if they are trodden on or caught. So make sure you watch where you put your feet.
BARRCAUDAS – Barracudas may attack if the water is slightly murky and they are misled by any reflective gear you may be wearing. The barracuda may believe that the diver is their normal prey and so may attack.
MORAY EELS – People often dislike eels, but appearances aren’t everything. Eels will usually only attack if a diver puts their hand into an eels den or if they’re feeling pekish 😉
STONEFISH – Stonefish do not attack humans. They are well camouflaged (I’ve never seen one 😉 ) and therefore may be trodden on. This can cause an intense pain from their highly venomous spines.
TRIGGERFISH – Nesting males are often aggressive and will charge at and bite any divers that get too close.
JELLYFISH – Most species of jellyfish have stinging tentacles and believe me its not nice to be stung by one during your dive. Check out on your dive boat/dive centre if many people get stung by jeelyish in the area and then choose your exposure suit accordingly. (I was often stung on my arms last summer as I only wore a short sleeved scratch vest, after changing to a long sleeved one I was rarely stung again) The small sea wasps are the most painful and also the most dangerous. To treat a jellyfish sting you can use vinegar or salt water and (although I’m not a doctor – don’t quote me on this) if the sting irritates you after use a little bit of tiger balm on it, it smells awful but it works.
FIRE CORAL – Inflicts a nasty sting if a diver brushes against it – you shouldn’t be touching the coral anyway – but now you’ve been warned!
HYDROIDS – Most have a very painful sting and may also cause long lasting wheals
CONE SHELLS – Cone shells use strong toxins to disable their prey and will also ‘inject’ humans with it if they are handled.
SEA URCHINS – Have huge spines. I would be able to tell you the effects first hand as my dad nearly sat on one without realising a couple of years ago, however the instructor stopped him and so I don’t know what happens however research tells me that in some species the spines are toxic and can cause considerable pain if they penetrate the skin.
WARNING – Be careful around fish that have been fed regularly by humans, they may become aggressive if they expect food off you and you don’t give them any… This however is not a reason to start feeding the fish.