The practice of sports or leisure activities in the marine areas (bathing, fishing, diving, surfing, jet-skiing, etc.), apart from the pleasure it entails, also generates health risks, such as traumatic accident, drowning, sunburn or heat stroke.
The incidents caused by the flora and fauna in that habitat, among which the contact with jellyfish and bites by fish equipped with toxic inoculants such as the spider fish, the scorpion, the ray, the actinia or the anemone.
The distribution of these living beings is not uniform and the species, which vary according to the different seas and oceans of our world, sometimes generate serious and even fatal intoxications.
One fact worth noting is the increase in accidents caused by the encounter with exotic marine organisms, as a result of the increase in tourism in tropical areas, by the so-called beach tourism and the growing practice of water sports, such as scuba diving.
It is important to carefully select a Travel Assistance plan that will be taken for each particular trip, depending on the activities to be carried out and the level of risk of each, highlighting that water sports, both immersion as surface, they are among those that deserve greater coverage.
The beauty of coral reefs attracts divers and swimmers. Coral samples of vibrant tones and curious forms integrate the aquatic gardens with an abundant diversity. However, despite the beauty of the reef, it is best to refrain from the temptation to reach out and touch, even if you are wearing gloves.
Approaching reefs without touching them is the best, since human contact can be as dangerous to the coral ecosystem as it can be dangerous for humans. Corals are living beings, so the interaction with them is not indifferent to either side.
In this article, we will focus on the damage that these species, in defending themselves, can cause to humans:
Lacerations and Abrasions
The common injuries related to corals are cuts and scrapes obtained either by being accidentally thrown into the coral by an ocean current or strong waves or by deliberate physical contact. Not only are they sharp blades capable of creating deep and severe lacerations, but some varieties are toxic to the touch and potentially deadly.
If it happens to you, be sure to clean any wound with soap and neutral saline or water, including a spray of hydrogen peroxide, which helps destroy any remaining biological matter and then apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage. After practicing these first aid, it is convenient to consult the doctor who provides your Travel Assistance insurance.
Coral scrapings tend to become chronic irritations. So they can become chronic dermatitis. It is supposed to be because the small pieces of coral that are embedded in the wound have persistent toxic and allergic effects. Proceed as in the previous case, in addition to applying the tetanus vaccine and observe if healing begins.
If this does not happen in 24-36 hours it is convenient to go to the doctor. In some cases, hyper-pigmentation can occur that will be better treated by a dermatologist. In either case, an immediate consultation with the Online Medical service of your Travel Assistance insurance will be sufficient to obtain an adequate diagnosis and treatment.
Intoxication and Infection
Coral reefs are colonies of creatures with calcareous or osseous exoskeletons, often with sharp or protruding angles, so it is not uncommon for swimmers and divers to suffer lacerations after making contact with the reefs.
Once the skin is broken, “coral poisoning” is characterized by itchy red welts that develop as the capillaries become inflamed, and can be felt in a matter of minutes.
In addition to minor side effects, such as localized pain and relatively low fever, coral poisoning can progress to ulcerative cellulitis and scaling of the skin around the wound, which can take up to three to six weeks to heal.
In rare but very serious cases, it can lead to tissue necrosis around the wound, it can ultimately result in sepsis (infection of the blood) or a serious infection. To avoid complications, it is advisable to go immediately to a medical consultation through our Travel Medical Insurance.
Very Dangerous Corals
Some types of coral are innately dangerous, since they use poisons or toxins as defense mechanisms. Fire coral is found on reefs around the world. In general, it has a light brown color with small tips that look like fingers that are lighter shades, its appearance is quite harmless and benign.
This species has thousands of miniature fine hair polyps, with an abundance of stinging cells.
Fire coral is not exactly coral, but it is found within the same family. In fact, taking into account the consequences of touching it, it has a closer relationship with the jellyfish than with the corals.
It is quite common to mix fire coral with seaweed, so you must be very careful. If it is a bright yellow color, pulling green and with a brown tint, it is most likely fire coral.
The fire coral is a coelenterate animal belonging to the order of Milleporas. Among the different Milleporas stand out M. alcicornis, which is found in the Red Sea and in the tropical waters of the Pacific.
M. tenera and M. platyphylla, found in Thailand and northeastern Australia, and M. dichotoma, which is detected in the Red Sea, in the Gulf of Aden and in tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific.
The milleporids are hydrocorals belonging to the class of hydrozoans and are characterized by forming calcareous colonies, especially in tropical waters. They are very shallow, usually at the edge of the coastal coral reef, and sometimes emerge at low tide.
Being very close to the surface and the beach, Its habitat coincides with the areas most visited by both bathers and boats that take tourists to areas where they can observe marine life. The pleasant temperature of tropical waters means that, when people enter the water, they rarely take precautionary measures, and a simple scratch with the corals can cause a major injury.
The fire coral tissue is full of small structures called nematocysts, which, when touched, are fired, penetrate superficially into the skin and release toxins composed of polypeptide chains of high molecular weight, whose composition varies according to the species, and that generate an immediate sensation of burning and a cutaneous urticariform rash, with intense pruritus.
About 6 hours later, blisters can form, resolving into papules and violaceous patches in the form of stretch marks. Remember that, when the corals come into contact with the skin, small pieces of their exoskeleton can be incorporated under the epidermis and there may also be remains of living tissue that contains nematocysts that can discharge their inflammatory venom at that moment, or hours or days later.
The treatment consists of the topical application of oral corticosteroids and antihistamines, but the lesions can be maintained for several months, depending on the number of nematocysts discharged and the sensitivity of the person. Complete recovery is the usual norm, but residual hyperpigmented macules may persist for months.
Exceptionally, injuries caused by fire coral can become infected and, in extreme cases, could cause a necrosis of the affected area. When traveling to other countries and sports activities are carried out in which contact with marine fauna can occur, preventive measures must be taken to avoid this type of accidents and, if they occur,
The history of our relationship with corals is plagued by different attitudes towards these living beings, whose consequence almost always ends up being harmful to them or to us.
The pollution of the oceans, the tourist invasion without controls of tropical waters and the lack of respect in some seas (even nuclear explosions in coral islands), has made these creatures (which take a long time to grow back) to be affected in its development and have become extinct in many areas.
Various initiatives are trying to cultivate artificial corals to divert tourism to them and protect the natural ecosystem.
For this reason and the fact that many times its contact is dangerous for human beings, our best recommendation, if you are going to immerse yourself in coral waters, is: “LOOK AND DO NOT TOUCH”.