MONTSERRAT DIVING: WHAT'S NEW?


The tragic death of Steve Irwin by a stingray sting has highlighted the hazards posed by marine life when diving. I thought it would be a useful opportunity to feature those possible dangers in the sea around Montserrat. The bottom line is that you are most unlikely to injure yourself in these waters (or any other come to think of it), but these are the main threats from my point of view and personal - occasionally painful - experience:

  • Stingrays: there are two types of stingray in Montserrat waters. The main one is the Southern Stingray which is quite prolific and can often be seen whilst diving or snorkeling. The other is the Eagle Ray which is rarer. Southern Stingrays can grow large enough to attract remoras which are more associated with sharks. You are most likely to hurt yourself with one of these by stepping on one in shallow water. Their tail with the barb will lash up and catch your ankle or lower leg (these barbs are a defence against sharks - their main enemies which attack them from above). Wounds inflicted can be very painful, especially if venom has been injected. When diving the rays can get aggressive and will normally circle you with tail up (see picture) if threatened. This can be quite disorientating when you have been circled four or five times by a large ray. Its a bit like underwater mugging. But they are just defending themselves and to actually come into contact with a barb underwater is extremely rare. If you do injure yourelf clean the wound with fresh water and place the injured part in hot water. The pain/wound will ease in a couple of days, but the discomfort can linger for quite a while longer. Look out for infections which are common with stingray stings. If in doubt consult a doctor.
  • Scorpion Fish: A common fish in Montserrat waters, but not so easy to spot and relatively easy to put your hand on by accident (see photos V). To actually get stung by a Scorpion Fish you really need to put your hand firmly on the top of the fish - ie when mistakenly grasping for a for a coral handhold. (I've seen people put their hands on a Scorpion Fish and then for it to swim away with everyone's surprise and no injuries!) So, again, you will be unlucky to get stung. If you do, it can be very painful, but not life threatening. As with stingray stings, clean the wound and immerse it in the hottest water you can stand. Severest pain will dissipate after 48 hours.
  • Jelly Fish: The main jelly fish in Montserrat waters is the Moon Jelly which is harmless. But the other main jelly fish, even the dangerous Portugese Man-o-War, are documented in Caribbean waters. I have been stung many times by jelly fish and on all occasions I have been unable to identify the perpetrator. Often it is after storms when the stinging cells of venomous jelly fish are in the water and will sting the skin even if the main host is not around. Jelly stings can be painful, but don't last long. Put vinegar on them or have a couple of beers and the pain will soon ease.
  • Fire Coral: This is actually the most likely source of stings in Montserrat waters. Fire Coral comes in many shapes and sizes (eg blade coral, finger coral), but is fairly recognisable with its yellowy tips. Careless divers and snorkelers can often graze themselves on the corals and it can be really painful if you are stung. Treat the wounds with vingear or similar and the bubble like skin rash will ease in a few days. Normally it can take a couple of weeks for the skin rash to disappear completely, although the pain/itching will have gone well before then.
  • Morays: Moray eels aren't dangerous unless you wave your fingers at them. Although this practice may sound rather foolhardy and unlikely, you will be surprised by how many divers seem to fall for this seemingly irresistable temptation. If you do wave your fingers at a moray in a 'worm-like' motion they may seize upon them with razor like teeth and won't let go easily. It will bleed like hell and hurt similarly, but you have only yourself to blame. The picture shows a green moray which I could have put my whole hand in inside its mouth if so inclined. Fortunately I wasn't.
  • Sea Urchins: The main danger is that you will stand on one. Whilst they normally keep close to the reef they will, occasionally, 'wander' around in the shallows and, as such, can pose quite threat to bathers. I did stand on one once and counted 35 spines in my foot/ankle. It was very painful, but there is nothing much you can do apart from take out the obvious spines and put your foot etc in hot water when you get home. For my part it was like getting a 35 point tattoo. Remaining spines are eventually forced out by the body's immune system and it took a month for the final spines to disappear, although the main pain went away after about 48 hours. Definitely to be avoided, but not a holiday spoiler if you have an encounter.
  • Sharks: Last, but not least. They are all around in Montserrat waters - the Mako, the Hammerhead, the Tiger - all potential killers, but you are very unlikely to see them. If you do come across sharks they may be curious - we don't see many and they don't see many of us, so it is not uncommon for a shark to come right up to you to 'check you out'. This can be unnerving, but is very unlikely to be any prelude to aggression. If you get bitten by a shark in Montserrat waters you are the first person I am aware of to suffer this fate, so let me know if you survive. The odds are about the same as poor Steve Irwin getting killed by a stingray. RIP Steve.

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