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Lionfish continue to populate, pose threats to coral reefs

By Annie Chambers..U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Jacksonville District

Their dorsal spines and zebra-like bodies may draw one in for a closer look. Commonly used in aquariums for show, the invasive lionfish has made its way from the South Pacific and Indian Oceans to the east coast. In the past decade, they’ve been rapidly expanding from Florida to North Carolina, as well as the Caribbean.

A red lionfish swims in the Atlantic Ocean. The aquarium trade is the most likely explanation for the invasion of the lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lionfish may live longer than 15 years and reach sizes exceeding 20 inches. Their venomous spines are capable of fending off predators and stinging humans, according to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), an active organization of divers and marine enthusiasts. Lionfish reproduce throughout the year, nearly every four days, and females can spawn over 2 million eggs per year.

Lionfish are venomous and have up to 18 needle-like spines.  However, the meat of the lionfish is not poisonous. If stung, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommends treating a puncture wound by immersing it in hot water for 30-90 minutes, and seeking medical attention as soon as possible. The Poison Help Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 is available 24 hours a day.

Coral reef community population structure and dynamics are at risk as a result of the influx of lionfish. These predators out-compete other species such as fish and invertebrates for food resources and they have few known predators, according to NOAA’s Coral Reef Information System (CORIS) website.

NOAA’s experts believe that lionfish populations will continue to grow and are unable to be controlled with conventional methods. Lionfish are established along the southeastern coast of the United States, Bermuda, the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently waived the recreational fishing license requirement to harvest lionfish. The change allows divers to easily assist in the control of the lionfish population. This will allow people to take as many of the invasive fish as possible.
NOAA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) as well as professional and recreational diving communities are working to help remove and control lionfish. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission encourages people to remove lionfish; they can be speared, caught in hand-held nets or caught on hook and line. Lionfish can be reported to REEF’s

Photo: NOAA

LionFish-kit

Big Lionfish Found at Disturbing Depths

LiveScience.com

by Megan Gannon, News Editor July 14, 2013NatureFlorida
Big Lionfish Found at Disturbing Depths

Lionfish gather near the doorway of this sunken ship, the Bill Boyd, in this image taken by researchers …

The relentless scourge of lionfish has crept to unexpected depths: Off the coast of Florida, researchers say they found the venomous invader thriving around a sunken ship at 300 feet (91 meters) below the water’s surface.

“We expected some populations of lionfish at that depth, but their numbers and size were a surprise,” researcher Stephanie Green, of Oregon State University, said in a statement.

Last month, Green and colleagues investigated the seafloor near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in a deep-diving Antipodes sub. At 300 feet (91 m) deep, the team witnessed a large number of the spiny fish near the intentionally sunken Bill Boyd cargo ship, an artificial reef created in 1986. [See Photos of Lionfish & Other Freaky Fish]

While lionfish are typically between 12 and 15 inches (30 to 38 centimeters) long, the Oregon State researchers say they saw unusually large specimens as big as 16 inches (40 cm) long.

“This was kind of an ‘Ah hah!’ moment,” Green said. “It was immediately clear that this is a new frontier in the lionfish crisis, and that something is going to have to be done about it. Seeing it up-close really brought home the nature of the problem.”

Big Lionfish Found at Disturbing Depths
A popular aquarium fish and invasive predator, lionfish have a fan of soft, waving fins and venomous …

Native to tropical Indo-Pacific waters, lionfish were introduced to the Atlantic by humans in the 1990s, likely through the exotic pet trade. Now found in reefs from North Carolina to South America, the rapidly reproducing invasive fish have voracious appetites, gobbling up native fish and competing with other species for food resources.

Worse, lionfish have no natural enemies in Atlantic waters, except spear gun-toting humans. Another study, detailed online July 11 in the journal PLOS ONE, found that not even sharks can curb red lionfish populations in Caribbean reefs.

Researchers are trying to figure out what is keeping lionfish in check in the Pacific so that they might stem the Atlantic invasion, which thus far has looked to be unstoppable. Prepared correctly, lionfish are said to make a tasty meal, but one prick from the fish’s venomous spine can cause excruciating pain. Lionfish derbies to bring in big catches of the predator have been held in Florida and the Caribbean.

“A lionfish will eat almost any fish smaller than it is,” Green said in a statement. “Regarding the large fish we observed in the submersible dives, a real concern is that they could migrate to shallower depths as well and eat many of the fish there. And the control measures we’re using at shallower depths — catch them and let people eat them — are not as practical at great depth.”

Lionfish also can produce far more offspring when they are large. A big, mature female in some species can have up to 10 times as many offspring as a female that’s half its size, researchers say.

Ocean Care Solutions Lionfish Sting 1st Aid Kit provides safe and effective sting relief

Pterois volitans and P. miles
Native range: Indo-Pacific and Red Sea
Invasive range: East coast of the United States and Caribbean sea

Some say that the invasion started in Miami, when Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank in 1992. But you can’t blame the weather: records of wild lionfish in Florida date back at least to 1985. This popular aquarium fish may have been released by fish enthusiasts tired of having a relentless predator in the living rooms, silently dispatching their other fish. And now that exotic predator is spreading north to New England, south to Panama and throughout the Caribbean, feasting on juvenile snapper and grouper along with algae-eating parrotfish as they go–-species which help keep reefs healthy. The lionfish is the first marine fish invasion in the western Atlantic.

Lionfish Range in the US.

Marine biologists are shocked at the speed of their spread in just a decade and at their population densities. Few fish species have established in the wild, let alone so successfully. Suddenly, they’re an abundant reef fish from the Bahamas to Rhode Island. Overfishing of predators like the grouper may be part of the story. Reef destruction and trophic cascade are possible outcomes. The only range limits appear to be colder and fresher waters.

A female lionfish produces two million eggs a year, so not only does it seem unlikely the species can be successfully eradicated, even slowing the growth rate is a challenge. Because lionfish eat just about anything that fits in their mouth while larger native fish don’t seem to recognize lionfish as prey, some experts say humans are the only predators left to call upon.

Common lionfish (Pterois miles)

As of 2010, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has given out licenses to divers to kill the species inside the property. Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) hosts a series of “Lionfish derbies” offering prize money  largest, smallest, and highest number caught; and publishes the Lionfish Cookbook, aimed at introducing chefs to what NOAA calls a “delicious, delicately flavored fish” similar in taste to snapper and texture to grouper. Lionfish have venomous fin spines––an uncommon feature on East coast species–-making them top predators and a danger to fishermen and divers. (And more expensive than many other fish on the menu, someone has to remove those venomous spines.)

The Lionfish 1st aid kit comes with everything you need to effectively treat your marine sting.

Lionfish Kit

Information provided by eattheinvaders.org

Lionfish envenomation 1st aid kit developed by Ocean Care Solutions

Lionfish are colorful marine fish with venomous spiky fin rays. Its presence is increasing around the seas of the world and present a danger to fishermen, divers and swimmers. Its venom can lead to extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties, convulsions, dizziness, redness on the affected area, headaches, and numbness although its venom is rarely fatal.

This chilling animated graphic shows the population explosion of poisonous lionfish in Florida, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the Atlantic seaboard between 1986 and 2011: http://nas.er.usgs.gov/taxgroup/fish/Lionfishanimation.gif 

Treating Lionfish Sting Injuries

Being stung by the long, thin, needle-sharp spines of even a small lionfish generally results in a fire-like pain which is often localized to the area stung, but may travel along the extremity. Expect swelling. Needless to say, a sting to the head, neck or body cavity is more serious and should be considered a medical emergency. It is possible that a portion of the spine may break off in the wound, requiring surgical intervention. Infection is always a possibility. A host of other symptoms and complications are possible.

First-aid for a lionfish sting (before you can get to a doctor) mainly consists of applying heat, which destroys the venom. The problem is, where are you going to get heat if you are out on a boat or standing on a dock?

Ocean Care Solutions has developed a lionfish sting first-aid kit that has what you need. It should be available around mid-January 2013 and will retail for around $20. The supplies contained in the kit are based on treatment protocols with scientific and medical support and derive from medical data and injury reports.
Ocean Care Solutions Lionfish Sting First-Aid Kit

What’s in the OCS Lionfish Sting First-Aid Kit?

  • Moist towelette for cleaning hands
  • Latex-free gloves
  • Gauze pad to help slow bleeding
  • Sterile saline solution for rinsing wound
  • Forceps / tweezers to remove spines
  • Instant Heat Pack to alleviate pain
  • Elastic wrap for holding heat pack in place
  • Ocean Care Solutions triple antibiotic ointment
  • Adhesive bandages

Ocean Care Solutions is a pioneer in the development of effective, convenient and affordable first-aid kits for marine sting injuries, including for jellyfish, stingrays, sea urchins, fire-coral, and Portuguese Man-of-War.

Ocean Care Solutions’ products were nominated for the 2012 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year.

Below are the instructions as shown on the back of the foil packet which houses the kit. Click on the image below to enlarge it enough to read:

Click image to enlarge

Content courtesy of David McRee..Beachhunter.net

http://www.blogthebeach.com/2012/nature/fish/lionfish-in-florida-problems-and-solutions