Diving with Hazardous Marine Life

Written by DAN staff

Diving, swimming and even just going to the beach offers the opportunity to observe marine animals in their natural environment. Unfortunately, inappropriate or unintentional interactions with some marine life can lead to serious injuries. The good news is that most injuries are largely preventable with some forethought, knowledge and awareness. However, accidents do happen and each year a number of divers sustain marine life injuries. Below are best practices for dealing with some of the most common marine life injuries:

Urchins

Sea urchins are echinoderms, a phylum of marine animals shared with starfish, sand dollars and sea cucumbers. They are omnivorous, eating algae and decomposing animal matter, and have tubular feet that allow movement. Many urchins are covered in sharp, hollow spines that can easily puncture the skin and break off, and may penetrate a diver’s boots and wetsuit.

Urchin

Injuries caused by sea urchins are generally puncture wounds associated with redness and swelling. Pain and severity of the injury ranges from mild to severe, depending on the location of the injury and the compromised tissue, and life-threatening complications do occur but are extremely rare.

Divers can prevent sea urchin injuries by avoiding contact with good buoyancy control and being cautious of areas where sea urchins may exist, such as the rocky entry points while shore diving.

Treatment for sea urchin wounds is symptomatic and dependent on the type and location of injury. Application of heat to the area for 30 to 90 minutes may help. Sea urchin spines are very fragile, so any attempt to remove superficial spines should be done with caution. Wash the area first without forceful scrubbing to avoid causing additional damage if there are still spines embedded in the skin. Apply antibiotic ointment and seek medical evaluation to address any embedded spines or infection risk.

Stingrays

Stingrays are frequently considered dangerous, largely without cause. Stingrays are shy and peaceful fish that do not present a threat to divers unless stepped on or deliberately threatened. Stingrays can vary in size from less than 30 centimetres/one foot to greater than two metres/six feet in breadth, and reside in nearly every ocean.

From DAN_stingrays_iStock_000019476594_WEB

The majority of injuries occur in shallow waters where divers or swimmers accidently step on or come in contact with stingrays. Injuries from stingrays are rarely fatal but can be painful. They result from contact with a serrated barb at the end of a stingray’s tail, which has two venomous glands at its base. The barb can easily cut through wetsuit material and cause lacerations or puncture wounds. Deep lacerations can reach large arteries. If a barb breaks off in a wound, it may require surgical care. Wounds are prone to infections.

Injury treatment varies based on the type and location of the injury. Clean the wound thoroughly, control bleeding and immediately seek medical attention. Due to the nature of the stingray venom and the risk of serious infections, seek professional help for stingray wounds.

For more information on first aid and safe diving practices, visit DAN.org/Health

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