Fire Coral – The name conjures up images of a flame colored coral that would immediately look as though it might burn you.
The reality is that Fire Coral does just the opposite, it is generally a very ordinary looking part of the reef and also presents in various colors as well as appearance.
The species it belongs to is Milleporina and is not part of the genus of corals, rather it is closely related to anemones and jellyfish.
The Fire Coral is found in most tropical and sub-tropical waters and thrives in areas with stronger currents up to depths of 40 meters.
When seen up close, the coral fronds can be seen to be covered in fine ‘hairs’. It is these hairs which inflict the burning sting from which the coral gets its name.
The hairs are covered in cells called nematocysts which the Fire coral uses mainly as a defense mechanism against fish which may feed upon it as well as against prey for food.
It is when a scuba diver brushes against the fire coral that the nematocysts release toxins at the same time as the skin is being cut by the sharp edges of the fire coral skeleton causing what can be intense pain. The extent of the pain and time the pain is felt depends upon the time contact is made – the longer the contact the more pain and indeed the duration the pain is felt. The pain can be present for anything from a few days to a few weeks.
The most obvious is that a rash appears with raised weals. The rash, at the very least itches, but most often burns.
You may experience Lymph Gland swelling after some time.
There has, on very rare occasions, been incidences of nausea and/or vomiting
As soon as possible after being stung, rinse the area with salt water – not fresh water as this will worsen the pain – then douse with vinegar or isopropyl alcohol to neutralize the toxins the nematocysts have released onto your skin.
If hairs can be seen, tweezers may be used to remove them individually.
Hydrocortisone cream can also be applied to counter the inflammation caused by the toxins.
A final step may be to administer antibiotics for possible infections. Bactroban Cream is a good topical antibiotic cream to counter infections as a precaution.
Some people may display allergic reactions, in which case medical assistance should be sought.
It is important to remember that any cut as a result of a brush with Fire coral or any other coral while scuba diving runs the risk of infection.
Many corals as well as parts of the reef are extremely sharp and brittle. When a cut is inflicted, very often debris in the form of living coral remains in the flesh. These living organisms can cause significant infection if left inside a wound.
Any coral abrasion should be washed thoroughly with water to flush out the debris. Sometime hydrogen peroxide is used to help remove rubbish from the wound.
As always prevention is better than cure.
Shorty wetsuits or even T-shirt and swimming trunks may be ‘free’ and comfortable (I dive in some Tropical locations with a Shorty), a part of wearing a wetsuit is for protection from possible injuries and not just temperature.
There have been occasions where a surge has pushed me hard against the reef, if I hadn’t had a wetsuit on I would have had significant abrasions from the contact.
Buoyancy is obvious – maintain good buoyancy and keep your distance from the reef, particularly in surging or strong current conditions
To read about more poisonous sea creatures like Fire coral, click here