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Marine Life & Conservation

Things that sting… and how to avoid them!



By Gemma Smith

Here be Dragons warned medieval maps, as land gave way to uncharted oceans and their mysterious inhabitants. Well, as it turns out there are dragons in the seas, but they are small and loveable (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). No threat at all! There are however creatures who can give divers, snorkelers, swimmers and surfers painful and, at times, fatal stings. Here are some of them to look out for… but remember, these animals are only defending themselves or trying to catch their dinner!


The death of Australian naturalist Steve Irwin from a stingray made international headlines in 2006. Yet it was only the second recorded stingray-induced death in Australian waters since 1945. Stingrays are not naturally aggressive but like any animal will react if frightened. Often hiding in sand to await prey, the ‘stingray shuffle’ (sliding your feet along the sand rather than stepping down hard) can alert the animals to your presence and allow them to take avoiding action.

Stingrays are common in coastal tropical and subtropical marine waters throughout the world. Some species live in the deep ocean, and there are also river stingrays. They have a venomous barb on the end of their tail which they use for defense

Stingray injuries are rarely fatal. In Steve Irwin’s infamous case, the stinger penetrated his chest cavity causing massive trauma. Nonetheless, stings are serious. They can cause pain, bleeding, nausea, weakness, and fainting. Embedded spines are best left to medical professionals to remove. This is in case the barb breaks off in the wound, which may lead to infection.

First aid includes cleaning the wound and immersing the injury in hot (40° C/104° F) water if possible for at least 30 minutes. Remember: Always seek medical attention for a stingray sting.

Weever Fish

This small fish which rests in sandy shallows near the shore punches, literally, above its weight! Its toxic dorsal spines produce acute pain if stepped on. Other symptoms are nausea, headache, and even abdominal cramps. Death is extremely rare.

As with other such injuries don’t remove embedded spines with bare hands. Always wear gloves or use tweezers! To reduce pain, immerse the foot in hot water (as above with stingray injuries). These small but potent fish live in the coastal waters of the Atlantic, North Sea, and the Mediterranean.


These sea creatures have tentacles covered with individual stingers called nematocysts. Jellyfish generally fire their darts into prey, but swimmers, divers, and snorkelers can be stung by physical contact. Swarms of jellyfish can also wash up on beaches.

in January 2019 about 13,000 stings were recorded on Queensland beaches from a massive influx of bluebottle jellyfish!

In May 2017 more than 300 Barrel jellyfish washed up on a beach in Wales.

So long as the stinger in the animals is still hydrated it can fire off into unsuspecting beachcombers who touch the animals. Always remove any tentacles using gloves or tweezers and, to reduce pain, immerse the affected area in hot water.

Most stings from jellyfish cause rashes and/or blisters. More acute reactions can be headaches or even chest pain. But stings from the Australian Box jellyfish and the Portuguese Man-of-War can be fatal. These need immediate emergency medical attention.

Be prepared to perform CPR in case of respiratory failure. Sea Wasp stings may prove fatal in as little as three minutes. To be safe, do your research before diving: avoid known Box Jellyfish habitats and minimize the amount of uncovered skin.

Blue-Ringed Octopus

This small (12-20 cm/5-8 in) shy little octopus with its distinctive blue rings has enough venom to paralyze ten adult humans according to a University of Sydney study. Found in tide pools and coral reefs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it spends much of its time hiding in small crevices or abandoned shells.

If threatened, its bite is tiny and relatively painless. The venom however can cause tingling of the lips and tongue, followed by difficulty swallowing, dizziness, and headache. This can progress to paralysis and eventual respiratory distress or failure. The victim is aware something is wrong but can do nothing.

If bitten by a Blue-ringed octopus always seek medical attention. First aid is pressure on the wound (‘pressure immobilization technique’) and artificial respiration (CPR) if there are signs of respiratory failure. Hospital treatment consists of putting the victim on a medical ventilator until the patient’s own system can metabolize and secrete the venom. Luckily there are few reported deaths. With timely medical help, full recovery is the norm.

Cone snails

There are about 600 species of cone snail. They can be found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Caribbean and the Red Sea. They live in reefs hiding themselves partially under sandy sediments. They often have beautifully patterned shells, very attractive to collectors.

All cone snails are poisonous to some degree. It is only the larger ones, up to 23 cm/9 in long, which we need to worry about. Every snail has a venom-injecting ‘tooth’; someone picks up a cone snail it responds by ‘biting’ the offender with its harpoon-like tooth.

In the case of the larger snails this tooth can sometimes penetrate gloves or wetsuits. This ‘bite’ can cause mild to moderate pain. In more serious instances numbness, blurred visions and paralysis can occur. Paralysis can sometimes lead to respiratory failure. Symptoms can appear immediately or may take a few days.

Always seek medical attention in case of a cone snail sting. First aid measures can include application of heat (such as soaking the affected area in hot water) for pain relief. Also use of the ‘pressure immobilization technique’ can help slow progression of the toxin. Watch out for symptoms appearing in succeeding days.


These marine creatures are not generally aggressive but will react if frightened, so some general rules:

  • Don’t touch them. Even dead jellyfish can sting!
  • Be careful where you put your hands; someone may be lurking under a rock or in a crevice or an abandoned sea shell.
  • If walking in shallow water do the ‘stingray shuffle’! This gives anything hidden in the sand time to get out of the way. After all, they don’t want to waste their venom on you!
  • The use of vinegar on a sting is controversial but recent research from the University of Hawaii on Man of War stings has shown that rinsing the area with household vinegar can halt discharge of more venom.
  • Don’t pee on a sting. It doesn’t help!
  • Don’t touch spines with bare hands
  • Gently clean the wound but don’t scrub, close, or cover it
  • Remember the pressure immobilization technique, and use if recommended (see below)
  • Always seek medical advice if there is evidence of chest pain, difficulty in breathing or numbness, or if you are in any way concerned about the injury. Minor injuries might mask a bigger problem. Better safe than sorry!

Pressure Immobilization Technique

This technique was developed in the 1970s by an Australian medical researcher, Struan Sutherland. It was originally designed to be used on certain snake and spider bite injuries. Its purpose is to contain the spread of venom from the affected area, and prevent the venom circulating to reach the vital organs.

It is not suitable for all bites/stings whether for snakes, spiders or other creatures. It is recommended for blue-ringed octopus bites and cone snail stings. Check DAN or another reputable site to refresh your memory if diving in waters where you are likely to meet these creatures.

The procedure is generally to:

  • Use an elasticated bandage, if available, to wrap the affected limb and apply firm pressure. Clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt or pantyhose can be used if nothing else is available.
  • Begin by bandaging a couple of inches above the bite site and then downwards over and past the bite site to the hand or foot.
  • The bandage should be snug but should not impede blood circulation.
  • The limb must be kept as immobile as possible as movement will encourage blood flow.
  • Splint the limb if possible or use a sling on upper limbs to further immobilize the patient.
  • Above all, seek medical help!

These are a few of the problems you may encounter while diving, snorkeling, or other water-based activities. It is important to always keep your First Aid knowledge up to date, and to carry basic First Aid equipment whenever you dive. Remember, the oceans are a marvelous place full of amazing and unique creatures. Respect them, and your visits to their world will be a delight and not a disaster.

To find out more about International Training, visit

From its humble beginning in 1994 to today, the group of training agencies Scuba Diving International (SDI), Technical Diving International (TDI), and Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) form one of the largest diving certification agencies in the World – International Training. With 24 Regional Offices servicing more than 100 countries, the company today far exceeds the original vision the founders had when they conceived the idea on a napkin, sitting at a kitchen table in the early 1990’s.

Marine Life & Conservation

Scubaverse meet the Ullapool Sea Savers



On a recent trip to the Highlands of Scotland we met up with an amazing bunch of ocean conservationists called the Ullapool Sea Savers. They are a passionate group of young people based in the beautiful coastal town of Ullapool who are working to protect the marine environment around them and it was a real pleasure to hear their ideas and to witness just how committed they are to their cause.

They are a group run by kids for kids, in response to the inspirational work of local marine campaigner Noel Hawkins. Their core premise is that people will protect what they love and they aim to show people just how much there is to love about the sea. The Ullapool Sea Savers keep things positive and work to inspire those around them and each other.

Each Sea Saver is a Species Champion, and they nominate their preferred species, learn all about them and then present a “fact fie” to the rest of the group. This ties in with the Species Champion Initiative launched by Scottish Environment LINK which asks Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to lend political support to the protection of Scotland’s threatened wildlife by becoming ‘Species Champions’. This has led to some great support from MSPs when it comes to campaigning, such as Maree Todd MSP and Minister for Children and Young People (who is also from Ullapool which helped!) becoming the Flameshell Species Champion and working closely with Caillin who is Flameshell Ambassador for the Ullapool Sea Savers. Similarly, Gail Ross MSP for our region, took on the role of Seagrass Species Champion and helped USS campaign against plans to allow Mechanical Kelp Extraction (Dredging!) to be given the go ahead in Scotland. There are plenty more example of this great partnering scheme here.

On top of this, the Ullapool Sea Savers have formed pods, and each small group selects a local campaign to work on, with the “New Wave” working on a “Drain Campaign” to educate people that litter dropped on the street ends up in the surrounding sea. They recently surveyed the litter by the first drain in the campaign and found over 300 cigarette butts that would have all washed out to sea during the next rainfall.

The “Blue Starfish” are working on a crisp packet recycling campaign, starting at the local school with hopes to widen the scale going forward. There is now also the newly formed Seal Pups Pod and we look forward to seeing what campaign they decide to focus on.

Many of the group have passed qualifications in snorkeling, diving, boat handling and they are currently learning to operate an ROV that they plan to use to mark underwater litter and ghost nets so it can be retrieved by divers. The group are also regularly found litter-picking along the coastline. As a group they have a powerful voice and recently won the Sunday Mail, Young Scot Awards 2021 for the Environment Category.

The older kids mentor some of the younger ones that are new to joining the group and what really struck us on meeting the group was how keen they were to pass on their wealth of knowledge and their passion for ocean conservation. We chatted to them about what we do and told them about some of our favourite marine life encounters from around the world. I hope we inspired them just a fraction as much as they inspired us! 

To find out more about the Ullapool Sea Savers you can visit their website by clicking here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Discover Whale Sharks in the Galapagos tomorrow with Regaldive



Regaldive are inviting divers to join them next Wednesday for a virtual tour of the Galapagos Islands.  Marine biologist Sofía Green will give an insight into her incredible encounters with Whale Sharks.

An expert on Whale Shark behaviour, Sofía has been part of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project since 2017 and is at the forefront of global Whale Shark research. She will also be leading Regaldive’s exclusive Whale Shark Expedition in September 2022, timed to visit during prime Whale Shark season. Founder of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project, Jonathan Green, will also be joining the Zoom event taking questions so do join them to find out more.

  • Date: Wednesday, 16 June
  • Timings: 7-8 pm (UK time)

Register via email here to book your place and let the team know if you have any questions you would like to ask Sofia and Jonathan.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email

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