Here’s the deal, fire coral is not even coral. It’s worse than that. Fire coral is actually more closely related to jellyfish than coral. The good news is that you won’t find it cruising around the ocean like a jellyfish. Fire coral is fixed to one spot, and with any luck, you won’t go anywhere near it.
Fire coral often has an orange-brown color with white tips. While they are more difficult to see, fire coral is also covered with thin, hair-like stingers. Often times, the stingers reach past the structure of the coral itself, so you may think you still have some room between you and the coral only to be surprised by an excruciating sting.
How to prevent fire coral stings
Before getting in the water, ask your dive instructor (if you are a diving) or your tour guide, if there is significant quantities of fire coral in the area. If they can tell you where it is concentrated, that will already be a big help.
– Many coral reefs have a shallow shelf. Avoid getting hung up here. Many fire coral stings happen in this shallow water, because it’s easy to run out of room, and divers or snorkelers can panic.
– Wear a wet-suit. A wet-suit won’t provide 100% protection, but it will certainly help.
– Always swim with a buddy. This is standard protocol for scuba diving and snorkeling. Two sets of eyes are better than one, and your buddy can help point out patches of fire coral that you may have missed.
What do you do if you have been stung by fire coral?
Fire coral stings typically don’t begin to burn until five to thirty minutes after initial contact. In cases where the structure of the fire coral has broken the skin, you will notice the pain a lot sooner. Go figure.
Expect red welts and rashes. You will want to put vinegar on the affected areas as soon as possible. This will help neutralize the stinging cells that haven’t yet fired their miniature poison-tipped harpoons (this is actually what’s happening on a near-microscopic level).
Once you get to dry land, you should go to a medical facility and get a diagnosis from a doctor. In some cases, you may need a preemptive course of antibiotics to prevent infection. Anti-itch cream will also help keep you from scratching the affected areas.
Fire coral stings are not fatal, and your life is not at risk. However, if you have been swimming in an area that has potentially deadly marine life, you should get to a medical facility immediately in order to have a proper diagnosis. You may think that you were stung by fire coral, but it’s best to make sure that you didn’t come into contact with something more sinister.
It’s also possible that you are allergic to fire coral. In this case, you may begin to experience swelling and shortness of breath. If either occur, get to a medical facility as quickly as possible. If you have any Benadryl or similar antihistamine, take it on the way. Depending on the severity of the reaction, it should help stave off an intensification of the symptoms.
If you have had any run-ins with fire coral, please talk about it in the comments below.