Beware of colours! If the blue bottles don't get ya, the red tide might. (and on a side note: word is that some of the ou's visiting Casey lately have gone home a bit green.)
But back to the critters.
Sounds like what everyone had thought was an innocuous algeal bloom might turn out to be a bit more serious than expected. Basically a Red tide is the result of an increased occurrence of some plankton cos of more chow being available. Main culprit is upwelling of cold nutrient-rich water with Mr Plankton in it, which when it lurks about at the surface catching some warm summer rays it goes "yih-hah" and makes hay (or more specifically, plankton) as the sun shines.
The usual suspect is a species called Noctiluca. But this current bloom seem a bit more sinister. Samples taken and currently being analysed by NMMU show that this bloom might be Noctiluca AND friends. Problem being is that one of the friends remains anonymous. No-one can work out what he is yet. Good guy? Bad guy? Who knows?
Dr Tommy Bornman from the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) has been monitoring the bloom and is still busy with DNA testing. He cautions that although the full array of plankton buddies has not been clarified, the fact that they're such a diverse crowd of lil dudes might be an indicator that it could be toxic. Oh-oh.
So, spit not swallow in the surf. Don't eat the shellfish. And surf at night cos the neon-glow from the critters is gonna look super-cool when you hook that big off-the-top.
Critter #2 lurking in our bay at the moment are the blue-bottles. Bit of east wind has plonked them into the inshore area and beach. Bit of a challenge cos the warm water means peeps are wanting to trunk it, but that means lots of exposed skin to get yourself stung in your mielie.
These ou's sting the crap outta you cos they have cells called nematocysts which are found in the long tentacles that trail behind em. These lil critters screw up your sesh by injecting a protein-based venom into your unsuspecting flesh, which can have varying reactions - none of them good. Firstly it stings like crazy, but if your luck is really out then you also get a nasty allergic reaction.
Rule number one is to try avoid getting stung in the first place. It’ll help if you wear a rashie or a T-shirt as it means there’s less open skin area for the terror tentacles to stick to.
Plan B – what to do if you do get stung. First off try rinse the tentacles off you using hot water. How hot? They reckon it has to be over 50C to work, that’s about as hot as you can bear. Chances of finding hot water at the beach? Bogger all. So let’s scratch that piece of advice then!
Next best thing is to rinse em off using salt water, cos fresh water might actually make the stinging worse. And no, don’t piss on it either! The old wives tale about urine don’t fly, it just isn’t acidic enough.
Plain white distilled vinegar like you would find in your kitchen has long been the standard first aid treatment for stings. Its use has been questioned in the last few years and several studies leave us wondering whether vinegar really works. Again, chances of finding vinegar at the beach are also bogger all, unless you get stung at Pipe and you can pop over to Something Good - grab some chips to go with your vinegar too.
Just make sure when you rinse that you get those tentacles off. Peel the buggers off. Not with your fingers though! Grab a stick, a shell, use a T shirt over your hand, whatever. Just get those things off else they’ll keep pumping poison into you.
Keep an eye out for anaphylaxis. Ana – what?? Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can result in hectic itching, shortness of breath, wheezing, tightening of the throat, flushed skin, weakness or dizziness. And if things get real bad you go into shock.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms make sure a mate gets you to the doc asap. Otherwise if you’re just stinging like hell, pop to the pharmacy and grab some anti-inflamm’s and then stick some ice on it.
Moral of the story – don’t get stung, it sucks…well, it stings!
Thanks to Dr Shirley Parker-Nance for providing the info about the red tide.