We always discourage snorkelers against touching the reef – especially branching fire coral. But, you should recognize and avoid the fifty identified species of venomous fire coral. Doing so could save you a painful sting, cut, or allergic reaction.
In fact, that could be a little more difficult than it sounds. The toxic marine organisms are not ‘technically’ a coral. But, you will find the small brush-like growths in tropical and subtropical seas.
Calcareous species of fire corals belong with Hydra, some hydrozoan anemones, and jellyfish. This is why these venomous coelenterates, and their fire coral sting, cause fire coral rash and skin irritation.
Most fire corals exhibit a similar colonial existence as its namesake. But, try to avoid accidental contact with this fiery aquatic life when scuba diving or snorkel swimming.
What is Fire Coral Millepora?
In fact, the fire coral scientific name is Millepora. You are most likely to find these fire corals concealed on shallow reef formations. Thus, they tend to thrive in the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans.
Fire corals are non-mobile and ‘predominantly’ form forking outcrops. They live on reef projections in areas with strong tidal currents. Millepora are most abundant on the upper slopes of lagoons.
Recognizing Branching Fire Coral
Knowing how to distinguish fire coral is a tad tricky for the untrained eye. It ‘cunningly’ disguises itself in shapes and colours like the regular branching species.
Its skeletal encrusted form may even appear bladed, plated, or boxy. But in actuality, there is an easy way to identify almost all fire coral species. It is brownish-green or orange color and has ‘attention-getting’ white tips.
Another distinguishing factor is its transparent stingers. They are usually visible and tend to stick out like hair-like cactus spines.
This is where the fire coral’s painful sting comes from. Brushing against the spines with uncovered skin is how most stings occur. This happens most to divers who are not wearing a wetsuit, and bare-skinned swimmers or snorkelers.
Stinging Fire Coral Facts
In fact, you can identify the common injuries from fire corals as cuts, skin rashes, or red welts. Fire coral rash is intensely painful. But, the stings do not usually start to burn immediately after contact.
Often, it takes five to thirty minutes after being stung to feel pain. The agony may last between two to fourteen days afterwards.
Much like jellyfish, fire coral injuries get done by tiny nematocysts. They protrude from numerous surface pores and tentacles.
The calcified external skeleton is also sharp enough to cause minor lacerations. Thus, it is not uncommon to get scrapes on unprotected skin.
Fire Coral Rash Treatment
You should now understand more on the facts about fire coral. But, the best antidote is to seek medical advice if you get injured.
The standard coral rash treatment involves several steps. Try to treat a fire coral burn immediately after as well as during the actual healing process.
A victim of a fire coral sting should be rescued from the water. Lay the person down, reassure them, and continually monitor their condition.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be necessary for the most serious life-threatening stings.
Irrigate the skin with white vinegar or seawater. Using fresh water causes the stinging coral nematocysts to fire again. This will increase the burning sensation.
If possible, ‘gently’ remove the stinging coral hairs from the wounded area. Use tweezers and gloves. Do not apply ice or rub the skin.
Isopropyl Alcohol is often used for rapid pain relief. But, some consider it may trigger the discharge of extra nematocysts. Thus, using ice packs may help for mild stings.
Marine life injuries may cause allergic reactions, shortness of breath, and fainting.
Infections and irritation are common during the healing process. Fire coral treatment may also include taking antibiotics, steroid ointments, and anti-itch creams given under medical supervision. The use of topical steroids should stop if the wound gets infected.
Note: The section on brain coral facts contains information and pictures that explain more about its habitat and characteristics.
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