Hazardous marine life of Okinawa by Shawn Miller

Okinawa offers some of the best snorkeling and scuba-diving in the world. The ocean is filled vast amounts of marine life only found here. With all recreational hobbies there are hazards to be concerned with. Okinawa has a large amount of hazardous marine life and most of it is found in very shallow water.

Safety first or pay the worst

Safety first or pay the worst – Image taken by  Shannon Fox

Ways to avoid injury

  • Be respectful and avoid harassing, touching and feeding marine life
  • Maintain good buoyancy control
  • Recognize warning signs of aggression
  • Avoid wearing shiny jewelry
  • Wear exposure protection- felt bottom booties, gloves, wetsuit or a dive skin.

The Lion fish is beautiful but a very dangerous fish. The spines deliver a painful sting with strong venom injected into the body. The Lion fish is native to this region of the world, so no need to try to kill it.

  • First aid: Wash the area with soap and fresh water. Remove foreign material and control any bleeding. Soak limb in hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek immediate medical treatment.
Lion fish ( Pterois volitans)

Lion fish ( Pterois volitans) – AKA fire fish

Most sea urchin injuries are due to people accidentally stepping on them in shallow surf. Wearing proper footwear decreases your chances of getting injured. 

  • First aid: Remove visible spines. Wash with soap and water. Pain control if needed-hot water  (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek medical treatment if spines have entered the joints.
The diadema urchin (Echinothrix diadema)

The Diadema urchin (Echinothrix diadema)

Moray eels deliver a viscous bite with razor sharp teeth. In some cases the eels latch on and do not let go. Avoid placing hands into holes and feeding the eels.

  • First aid: Control the bleeding and seek medical treatment. Monitor for signs of infection
Moray eel (Gymnothorax flavimarginatus )

Moray eel -Gymnothorax flavimarginatus

The crown of thorn starfish has sharp pointed spines that deliver a painful sting. The spines inject venom which cause extreme pain, discomfort and possible nausea.  Most injuries occur because divers are cutting up the starfish with a dive knife and a spine accidentally penetrates the hand. The starfish has a purpose in the ecosystem so leave it alone.

  • First aid: Remove visible spines. Wash with soap and water. Pain control if needed-hot water  (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek medical treatment if spines have entered the joints.
The crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci

The crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci

Coral moderators - COT'S

Coral moderators – COT’S

The blue ringed octopus is one of the most beautiful marine animals. It is only the size of a golf ball, but is extremely venomous if bitten. Avoid picking up this shallow water octopus.

  • First aid: Wash area with soap and fresh water. Apply pressure and limit your movement.  Immediate medical treatment. Monitor ABC’s
Blue Ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata)

Blue Ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata)

Fire coral are calcareous hydrozoans that deliver a painful sting. Avoid touching or rubbing against it.

  • First aid: Rinse with vinegar. Remove foreign matter. Wash area with salt waterPain control if needed-hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs.Seek medical treatment if infection occurs.
Fire coral ( Millepora sp)

Fire coral ( Millepora sp)

The reef stone fish is the most venomous fish found on Okinawa. It is a true a master of camouflage. The Stone fish resembles a rock blending into the coral reef. The spines deliver a painful sting with strong venom injected into the body

  • First aid: Wash the area with soap and fresh water. Remove foreign material and control any bleeding. Soak limb in hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek immediate medical treatment immediately.
Stone-zilla -huge stonefish

Stone-zilla -huge stonefish

Reef stonefish ( synanceia verrucosa ) Sunabe, Okinawa

Reef stonefish ( synanceia verrucosa )

The reef stonefish buried under the sand!

Reef stonefish ( synanceia verrucosa ) under sand

Reef stonefish ( synanceia verrucosa )  Sand dweller

Cone shells are sought after by many shell collectors for their beauty. The marine snail injects potent venom with a harpoon shaped tooth.

  • First aid: Wash area with soap and fresh water. Apply pressure and limit your movement.  Immediate medical treatment. Monitor ABC’s
Geographic cone (Gastridium geographus

Geographic cone (Gastridium geographus)

The most dangerous cone shells of Okinawa are found in shallow water

Venomous cones shells of Okinawa

Venomous cones shells of Okinawa

The scorpion fish is another master of camouflage. The spines deliver a painful sting with strong venom injected into the body. These fish will usually warn you of their presence by flaring out their fins and spines.

  • First aid: Wash the area with soap and fresh water. Remove foreign material and control any bleeding. Soak limb in hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek immediate medical treatment.
Reef Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis Cirrhosa)

Reef Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis Cirrhosa)

Stinging hydroids (fireweeds) are common in Okinawa. They are all avoidable as long as you do not touch or rub up against any. The hydroids deliver a painful sting .

  • First aid: Rinse with vinegar. Remove foreign matter. Wash area with salt water.  Pain control if needed-hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek medical treatment if infection occurs.
Stinging Hydroid (Aglaophenia cupressina). Also known as Sea Ferns, Fire Hydroid, Fireweed, Feather Hydroid, Stinging Seawee

Stinging Hydroid (Aglaophenia cupressina)

Sea snakes will not harm you unless provoked. I have never heard of any divers being bitten in Okinawa. Rare cases have occurred with fisherman removing their catch from nets and they were bitten on the hand.

  • First aid: Wash area with soap and fresh water. Apply pressure and limit your movement.  Immediate medical treatment. Monitor ABC’s
Turtle head sea snake (Emydocephalus ijimae)

Turtle head sea snake (Emydocephalus ijimae)

The cockatoo waspfish is a venomous fish found in shallow water. It resembles a leaf and blends in with debris very well. The spines deliver a painful sting.

  • First aid: Wash the area with soap and fresh water. Remove foreign material and control any bleeding. Soak limb in hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek immediate medical treatment.
 Cockatoo waspfish (Ablabys taenianotus)

Cockatoo waspfish (Ablabys taenianotus)

The fire urchin is  the most beautiful sea urchin found in Okinawa. Its beautiful colors attract divers to pick it up. The spines inject venom which cause extreme pain and discomfort.

  • First aid: Remove visible spines. Wash with soap and water. Pain control if needed-hot water  (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs.Seek medical treatment if spines have entered the joints.
Fire urchin (Asthenosoma ijimai)

Fire urchin (Asthenosoma ijimai)

The flower urchin is the most venomous sea urchin found in the world. It is a collector urchin, often using rocks or dead coral to cover itself. The pedicellariae inject venom not the spines, which cause extreme pain and discomfort.

  • First aid: Remove foreign matter. Wash with soap and water. Pain control if needed-hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek medical treatment
Flower urchin (Toxopneustes pileolus)

Flower urchin (Toxopneustes pileolus)

” Ball of spines”  The burrowing urchin is the an abundant echinoderm found here. Most injuries occur reef walking without proper foot protection. The sharp spines are painful and irritate the skin.

Burrowing sea urchin (Echinometra mathaei)

Burrowing sea urchin (Echinometra mathaei)

The bristle worm is also know as the fire worm. It delivers a powerful sting when threatened. The bristle like spines inject venom which cause extreme pain and discomfort.

  • First aid: Remove bristles using tape. Wash with soap and fresh water. Seek medical treatment if needed. monitor signs of infection
Bristle worm (Chloeis sp)

Bristle worm (Chloeis sp)

Common fire-worm (Eurythoe complanata)

Common fire-worm (Eurythoe complanata)

The eeltail catfish is a venomous saltwater fish found in shallow water. They usually travel in large numbers at night. The spines deliver a painful sting.

  • First aid: Wash the area with soap and fresh water. Remove foreign material and control any bleeding. Soak limb in hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek immediate medical treatment.
Eeltail catfis  (Plotosus japonicus )

Eeltail catfish (Plotosus japonicus )

Sea anemones deliver a painful sting with venomous tentacles.  Below is a photograph of the viscous predator Dofleinia armata. I had these anemones in my aquarium for three years. During that time I have seen them feeding on lion fish, scorpion fish, and venomous cone snails.

  • First aid: Rinse with vinegar. Remove tentacles with tweezers. Wash area with salt water.  Pain control if needed-hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs.Seek medical treatment if infection occurs.
Sea anenome (Dofleinia armata)

Sea anenome (Dofleinia armata)

Branching anemone

Branching anemone -Motobu ,Okinawa

Branching anemones are found living in the sand. They deliver a nasty sting! I have personally experienced its painful sting.

Branching Anemone

Branching Anemone

 

The false stonefish ( Scorpaenopsis diabolus) is another master of camouflage. The spines deliver a painful sting with strong venom injected into the body. These fish will usually warn you of their presence by flaring out their fins and spines.

  • First aid: Wash the area with soap and fresh water. Remove foreign material and control any bleeding. Soak limb in hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek immediate medical treatment.
False stone fish

False stonefish

Stingrays are found in sandy areas near coral reefs. They have a serrated barb located at the base of the tail.  Keep your distance to avoid any injuries!

  • First aid: Wash the area with soap and fresh water. Control the bleeding. If the barb is lodged in the body, do not remove it. Soak the limb in hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek immediate medical treatment! May require surgery to remove the barb.
Bluespotted stingray (Neotrygon kuhlii)

Bluespotted stingray (Neotrygon kuhlii)

The titan triggerfish is the most aggressive fish I have encountered. It is extremely territorial and will guard its nest aggressively. Attacks can be severe leaving wounds requiring stitches.  On several occasions I have pointed a dive light in their direction and it scared them off. They do not like the directional light for some reason.

  • First aid: Control the bleeding and seek medical treatment. Monitor for signs of infection
Balistoides viridescens, Titan triggerfish

Balistoides viridescens, Titan triggerfish

The bite of a titan trigger fish

Titan trigger fish bite – Photo by Daisuke Uruchida

The coral rabbitfish is a sought after fish in Okinawa. Fisherman and free divers often get injured handling this venomous fish. The spines deliver a painful sting.

  • First aid: Wash the area with soap and fresh water. Remove foreign material and control any bleeding. Soak limb in hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek immediate medical treatment.
Coral Rabbitfish (Siganus corallines)

Coral Rabbitfish (Siganus corallines)

The Box Jellyfish is the most dangerous jellyfish found in the ocean. It delivers an unbearable sting with its venomous tentacles. These stings require immediate treatment and can be life threatening

  • First aid: Rinse with vinegar. Remove tentacles with tweezers. Wash area with salt water. Pain control if needed-hot water (113 F / 45 C) or use hot packs. Seek medical treatment immediately.
Box Jellyfish ( Chironex yamaguchii ) under blue light

Box Jellyfish ( Chironex yamaguchii ) under blue light

Safety first or pay the worst!

Have a great day!