Lionfish and a new BCD

Dive Date: Wednesday May 6, 2015

You start the day like this, and you realize all you’ve ever needed was some good ol’ Vitamin Sea. Ready for tanning, diving, and trail mix. Not ready for the Kraken, time-traveling spheres, or stinging lionfish.lionfish01

#michaelcrichton

We headed out at 8:30 am to check out the ledges about two miles west of St. Pete Beach Reef. I was happy to try out this new BC I’d bought – and by new, I mean used. Off Craig’s List. It’s a Tusa Imprex and it’s a women’s extra small. This is way more difficult to find used, affordably, than I had anticipated. PLUS it has a combination BCD inflator and octopusScore.

Except I didn’t try it in a pool prior to planning a dive with it. Terrible idea. We reached our destination (I was out with my cousin Lisa and her husband Rob again) and geared up. While I was toying with my new BC, Rob, anxious to see what was below, grabbed his spear gun and headed down.

In the four minutes he was down, I had entirely convinced myself I’d forgotten how to attach the low pressure hose to the inflator.  Somehow, my well balanced breakfast of Greek yogurt and granola with fruit had failed me. Or maybe I hadn’t had enough coffee. Lisa even took a look at it and we compared it to her reg. Thankfully, I wasn’t losing my mind – the valve didn’t fit. It was a totally different piece than what I was familiar with.

Well, I had the option to use this opportunity to practice manual inflation of my BC or aborting the dive.  I’d never had to manually inflate outside of my Open Water classes, so I was admitting defeat when Rob surfaced with a freaking LIONFISH on his spear gun. Heck yeah!

Take a picture! Frantically crawling over tanks and useless BC’s, I snap a photo. And then it attacked. …the wildly dying fish slid down the spear and got a nice little barb in Rob’s hand. This was biological warfare. We didn’t know how serious the venomous sting was so we aborted the dive all together and decided to head back inland.

lionfish02

We cleaned the blood and put ice on it, because that’s what you do when you’re stung. Then Google finally answered my text (were you really that busy, Google?) and told us that it’s actually hot water you apply to a lionfish wound. Not cold water. Not ice. Score board was looking pretty grim for us. The BC was winning. The dead fish was winning. We were just ready to get Rob some antiseptic cleanser and ibuprofen. The anchor was snagged and with no knowledge of the severity of the incident we cut the anchor and went back to the dock. Where my cousins found their license plate and nifty Bolts plate cover had been stolen.

It all could have been much worse. Rob’s hand was in throbbing pain but no permanent damage was done. We learned a lot – like how much it costs to replace an anchor and 150 feet of rope. We also did some research on how to respond to a lionfish encounter, which I’d like to share in this post. 

If you aren’t in the loop yet, lionfish are an invasive species. They are popular in the pet trade, but what often happens with trophy specimens is they become a burden (size, difficulty, etc.) on the pet owner and are subsequently dumped into some arbitrary water system. Like the ocean.

When you dump trash in the ocean, you get this:

 

lionfish03
Giant Pacific Garbage Patch Photo credit: http://www.debrisfreeoceans.org/marine-debris/

 

And when you dump a non-native species of carnivorous reef fish into the Atlantic, you create an ecological imbalance. These fish are considered invasive because they were introduced to an ecosystem where they are having a harmful impact. They breed quickly, and eat herbivorous fishes that would otherwise happily keep seaweed and grasses in check. If seaweed grows too rapidly, we risk further destruction of reef systems. Visit the Lion Fish Hunters for more info on the lion fish invasion.

Also, if you are in the area, you can celebrate lionfish removal and awareness during the third annual Treasure Coast Lionfish Safari – an event held in Ft. Pierce May 16 – 17, 2015.

•••

Back to that BCD of mine; as common sense would have it, you should try out your gear before relying on it for a dive. I may have gotten a good deal on a BC that fits me very well, but it won’t do me much good until I get an adapter or replace the hose.

I’ve been reading up on the inflator/octo combo and what I’ve found is that while yes, you reduce the number of hoses that could be a mild annoyance (or potentially harm the dive site if it isn’t properly secured and ends up dragging or what have you), you also introduce a number of new problems:

  •  With the combo setup you can’t mix and match regs and BC’s without also swapping out hoses – this is the problem that I ran into.
  • You now must learn to operate your BCD in a way that you are not accustomed to. By removing the bright yellow alternate air source, you’ve possibly made the stressful situation of buddy-breathing even more nerve-racking.

I’ll write about this BC again once we’ve fixed the problem and I’ve given it a shot in the pool.

•••

As I said, this dive attempt was a learning experience. I will be more prepared with a better first aid kit and some knowledge of how to react to a lionfish sting. While the neurotoxin is very powerful and painful as it is released into the skin, unless you’re allergic, it’s very unlikely you’ll actually die, or experience any other long term effects (like death). You may experience vomiting, dizziness, fever, or breathing difficulty. Probably shouldn’t keep diving after a sting. And if you are allergic or if the sting is severe, your reaction could be much worse.

Abort the dive and find some hot water. 110 – 114° F will about do it. Didn’t remember to bring a thermos of boiling water? No problem – the boat pumps out some water that’s pretty darn hot, and in a pinch using this will do (assuming you’re on a boat – thank the folks at Jim’s Dive Shop in St. Pete for this tip). This will help to break down the protein causing you so much pain.

If you have fragments of the spine(s) in your skin, then you should go to a doctor. These need to be removed to avoid infection. You should probably go to a doctor anyway. I’m no doctor, so don’t rely on any of that nonsense you just read. Go read about it yourself. And then go kill some lionfish. And eat them, please. Don’t be wasteful.

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