Lurking in the abyss

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
The perils wading in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico exist even after tourist season is over.

There are plenty of aquatic life forms that can cause an array of injuries or even death. Animals such as jellyfish, barracudas, cone snails, eels, sting rays and sand fleas are examples of some of the marine life, which occupy the Gulf Coast.

Dangerous marine life can be classified into two simple categories stingers and biters.

Animals such as jellyfish, sting rays, cone snails and the Portuguese man-of-war are identified as stingers.

In the event that you are stung, some of the ways to treat the injury are instantly removing tentacles or stinging cells, rub sand on the injury, irrigate with soap and water or spray with ammonia solution.

In the U.S. meat tenderizers can alleviate pain from most stingers. Someone can make a paste and rub it onto the wound; this does the same thing to the stinging cells, as it does meat. It breaks up the proteins, neutralizes the stinging agents, according to Michael Gray, a formal trainer with the Special Tactics and Training Squadron.

Stingers aren't the only thing to be mindful of while in the water. There are the biters, such as barracudas, sharks and sand fleas to take into account.

Sand flea bites can be treated by using anti-histamine creams or pain killers like ibuprofen gels. If bitten by an animal with larger jaws such as a shark or barracuda, the injuries should be treated in the order; control bleeding, treat for shock and seek medical care.

Even turtles are very quick and powerful swimmers which can sever a finger or hand with their crushing bite according to a presentation by Gray.

"Stinging and biting are what can affect you most" Gray said. "I started teaching diving at a very early age in 1981 and when I talked with different outfits I made it simple by telling them stingers and biters are what you should be most aware of."

Another indigenous lethal creature to be conscious of, aside from stingers and biters, are toxic micro algae. They also inhabit the water surrounding the local area. The most common toxic algae are dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, also known as the Florida red tide organism, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. Florida red tides raid the Gulf of Mexico during late summer or early fall. Red tides can kill fish, birds, marine mammals and cause health problems for humans.

As summer comes to a close it's still prudent to apply risk management while taking part in activities in and around local coastal waters. Although dangerous marine life may not always be present, being armed with information regarding precautions and treatment for encounters with aquatic threats may be the difference between enjoying or regretting a trip to the beach.

For more information contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation commission at (850) 488-4676 or visit their website at