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Is it safe to dive with stingrays and sea urchins?

Sport Diver - - Training - BY DIVERS ALERT NET­WORK

I’ve al­ways loved be­ing in the wa­ter and watch­ing an­i­mal doc­u­men­taries, so I de­cided to ex­pe­ri­ence the un­der­wa­ter world for my­self by tak­ing a scuba div­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course. I’ve earned my C-card, but I’m a lit­tle ner­vous about com­ing into con­tact with ma­rine an­i­mals such as stingrays and urchins. Are these an­i­mals a se­ri­ous threat to divers, and could I treat a po­ten­tial in­jury?

Div­ing, swim­ming and even go­ing to the beach of­fer the op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve ma­rine an­i­mals in a peace­ful and fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment. Un­for­tu­nately, in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­ac­tions with some ma­rine life can lead to se­ri­ous in­juries. The good news is that these in­juries are largely pre­ventable, and with some sim­ple fore­thought and ed­u­ca­tion, wa­ter lovers can avoid in­jur­ing them­selves and the ma­rine life. Ac­ci­dents do hap­pen, how­ever, and a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of divers sus­tain ma­rine-life in­juries every year. Be­low are best prac­tices in deal­ing with some of the most com­mon ma­rine-life in­juries divers ex­pe­ri­ence. Urchins Sea urchins are echin­o­derms — mem­bers of the same phy­lum of ma­rine an­i­mals as starfish, sand dol­lars and sea cu­cum­bers. They are om­niv­o­rous, eat­ing al­gae and de­com­pos­ing an­i­mal mat­ter, and have tubu­lar feet that al­low move­ment. Most urchins are cov­ered in hol­low spines that can eas­ily pen­e­trate a diver’s boots and wet­suit, punc­ture the skin and break off. In­juries caused by sea urchins are gen­er­ally punc­ture wounds, as­so­ci­ated with red­ness and swelling. The pain and sever­ity of in­jury range from mild to se­vere, de­pend­ing on the lo­ca­tion of the in­jury and the com­pro­mised tis­sue, and life- threat­en­ing com­pli­ca­tions do oc­cur but are aw­fully rare. You can pre­vent sea urchin in­juries by avoid­ing con­tact — prac­tice good buoy­ancy and be wary of ar­eas where sea urchins

may ex­ist, such as the rocky en­try to a shore dive. Treat­ment for sea urchin wounds is symp­to­matic and de­pen­dent on the type and lo­ca­tion of the in­jury. Ap­pli­ca­tion of heat to the area for 30 to 90 min­utes might help. Spines are very frag­ile, so any at­tempt to re­move su­per­fi­cial spines should be done with cau­tion. Wash the af­fected 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 de­ter­mine if there are any em­bed­ded spines or risk of in­fec­tion.

Stingrays Stingrays are fre­quently con­sid­ered dan­ger­ous or threat­en­ing, largely with­out cause. Stingrays are shy and peace­ful fish that do not present a threat to divers un­less stepped on or de­lib­er­ately threat­ened. The ma­jor­ity of stingray in­juries oc­cur in shal­low waters where divers or swim­mers walk in ar­eas where stingrays may be. Stingrays can vary in size from less than 1 foot to greater than 6 feet in breadth and re­side in nearly every ocean on the planet. 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. Wounds are prone to be­come in­fected, and the barb can eas­ily cut through neo­prene wet­suit ma­te­rial and cause lac­er­a­tions or punc­ture wounds. Deep lac­er­a­tions can eas­ily reach large ar­ter­ies. If a barb breaks off in a wound, it might re­quire sur­gi­cal care. Treat­ment of stingray in­juries will vary 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 stingray venom and the risk of se­ri­ous in­fec­tions, stingray wounds must be ad­dressed by a pro­fes­sional.

For more in­for­ma­tion on first aid and safe div­ing, visit dan.org/ health.

Stingrays are shy and peace­ful fish that do not present a threat to divers un­less stepped on or de­lib­er­ately threat­ened.

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