There’s been a lot of talk around the island about some odd stinging organism that’s been hanging out in the water, particularly along the North Shore, over the past few days, perhaps even weeks. I hadn’t paid much attention to it because I hadn’t experienced it myself. Then Sunday happened…
After having a delicious breakfast in Coral Bay (I’ll have more on that later this week), I cruised on over to Francis Bay for a relaxing afternoon on the beach. I popped open an adult beverage, grabbed my cute little orange float and headed out into the water.
I was floating around enjoying the breathtaking views for about five minutes when all of a sudden I started to itch. The itching quickly turned into stinging and before I knew it, I had a big welt on the back of my leg. And then it started to hurt, like really hurt.
According to Gerald Singer, author of SeeStJohn.com and one of the most knowledgeable island residents when it comes to sea life and such, I most likely had the fortune of running into some stinging plankton. Here’s what Gerald wrote about it on his website Saturday:
“I took two nice long swims; one yesterday at Hawksnest and another, the day before at Trunk. I kept feeling these little stings, but didn’t see anything and the pain only lasted for a second or two, so I just kept on swimming. But now I have all these little bumps and they ITCH!!!
The probable culprit, a stinging plankton with the disgusting name “sea lice.” These tiny plankton, some so small that you can’t even see them, have a microscopic little barb called a nematocyst that activates when the plankton makes contact with something, like another plankton or small fish or you, and releases an irritating protein, that can develop into a itchy, itchy, itch later on.
I can attest to their presence at Hawknest and Trunk Bays and I’ve heard reports from Caneel Bay and even out on the East End, so it looks like they’ll be around for a while, until that evil tide or current that brought then this way takes them somewhere else. The sooner the better!
Treatment is a really hot shower, like as hot as you can stand it and then vinegar or a meat tenderizer paste to break down the protein. Helps a bit, but you can count on the itch coming back after a while. The itching usually lasts a few days to as much as a week.
I’ve found that this stuff you can get a Chelsea, Benadryl Itch Stopping Gel, is effective, at least for a time.
These plankton, along with other possible itchy-stingy organisms like jellyfish, for example, exist in the sea at all times, but usually in such small concentrations that that they won’t ever be a nuisance. Now apparently, there are enough of them around our bays to virtually guarantee an encounter.”
Now obviously I didn’t have any vinegar or meat tenderizer handy at the beach to help with the pain and itching Sunday afternoon. Luckily I do have a pretty smart island BFF who told me to rub some sand on it. I did and voilà! The pain and itching soon subsided.
So, the moral of this story is… Well I’m not really sure there is one. 🙂 The fact of the matter is that these little buggers are out there and they’re no fun. Should they stop you from going in the water? Probably not. But just be aware and maybe bring some vinegar with you the next time you head to the beach