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Let's Talk About ~Reefkeeping Dangers~

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NaH2O

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Jan 25, 2004
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I'm curious as to how many of you wear gloves when your hands are in the tank, or use your mouth to start a siphon? Are you cautious when working with your corals, or other inhabitants? In this topic, I'm going to discuss some potential hazards that may or may not effect you, but will be good information to be aware of. I'll start off with a coral toxin, and move into other inhabitants, as well as allergic responses to certain inhabitants. If you have had to go to the ER or see a doctor because of your tank, then please post your situation.

How do you defend yourself if you can't run away from predators? What type of mechanism would be most beneficial for your survival? Toxins

Some of you may know about a substance called palytoxin. It is actually the most toxic naturally occuring organic substance known. Where can you find it? In your palythoas, zoanthids/button polyps. There are so many varieties, and all contain different concentrations or degrees of toxicity, but this is a very dangerous substance - it can be fatal if ingested.
The compound is an intense vasoconstrictor; in dogs, it causes death within 5 min at 60 ng/kg. By extrapolation, a toxic dose in a human would be about 4 micrograms. It is the most toxic organic substance known! (Natural Nonprotein Neurotoxins)
I also found another link that describes the lethal dose in a 75kg man to be 10.75 micrograms (Poisoned Battle)

It works through effecting the Na/K ion pumps by opening them up, and it creates channels that interfere with the way the ion pump functions. (for more indepth reading on this see Deadly coral toxin exposes ion pump's deepest secret)

Some important things to remember: When working with zoanthus species, wear gloves, especially if you have any kind of wound; Don't eat your button polyps, or let your pets or small children near them (incase they ingest some); Wash your hands after handling; Don't wear them as glasses ;) - no really, keep them out of your eyes, especially when fragging; try not to get them on your mucus membranes, or stick them up your nose; if you are pregnant, nursing or immune compromised, then use caution and speak with your doctor about any concerns.

Please post your comments and other information you may have on palytoxin. This is just one hazard to be aware of when working in your tank. Using some common sense and a little caution is always good practice.
 

jase0723

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Mar 2, 2004
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Bothell
Thanks for the info.

I did hear about the dangers of toxins from the polyp family. I always make a point to wash my hands well with anti bacterial soap and hot water each time I handle corals or dip my hands in the tank.

I heard that some island natives used to rub their spear and arrow tips on the yellow star polyps to hunt for prey.
 

Scooterman

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Ok, I'm a bad one when it comes to this, I usually wash hands before and after. If I can't get a suction going, Yes I do it, I need to get a better practice going after reading about palytoxin. I hope maybe we can get some more information here, last thing I want to get poisoned from my Reef!
 

NaH2O

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Jan 25, 2004
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Scooterman, good point about washing hands before you put your hands in the tank. The oils and things that are on our hands (especially if you have been working with any type of chemical) might not be good for the tank.
 

Scooterman

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My hands go everywhere, grease, chemicals even Windex so you can't take chances, in or out. Only two or three time have I ever gotten SW in my mouth from a siphon, usually I get it started without but sometime I get rushed, I will have to start using a PH again.
 

Witfull

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Jan 27, 2004
Messages
647
Location
New Jersey
wimps,,,an immune system must be challenged,,,lol...kidding. another thing that isnt harmful pre se but hurts and is irritating as all get out. getting poked by those lil white tube worms that grow in the shadows. it punches a hole in your finger that takes days to heal you know its there the whole time. im sure we all have felt the irritation of salt in cuts, for that i have to reccomend liquid bandage,,,works great.

as for what i have experienced. lionfish back a whollop, they are shy, but will lunge at you if they feel really threatened. that was a trip to the hospital. having worked retail and wholesale pets, i have been stung, bit or tail shashed by almost everything. till have the scar on my thumb from a pirahna when i was 18. tarantualas,scorpions, pythons, boas, macaws and other types of birds, rats and other rodents, even kicked by a wallaby...just missed the danger zone id you get my drift,,,lol.
 

CarlaW

Scarlet Begonias
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Feb 8, 2004
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Columbia Falls, MT.
Good topic! I remember a thread on another board where a guy was fragging some zooanthid polyps and his dog got into them when he turned around. The dog died later that nite. What a terrible thing :( .
If I am moving corals around, I usually where those gloves men don't wanna know anything about!!!!
I've only been stung by my torch (euphyllia). That hurt for about 6 hours, but it was a wake up call for sure.
 

Curtswearing

Mantisfreak
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Nov 20, 2003
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St. Louis, MO
This article that I read here http://www.easttnreefclub.com/articles.html had quite an impact on me. The nudibranchs that eat palytoxin aborb some of the toxins into their system and then use it for their own defense.

This article appeared in the MASNA Volume 12, Issue 3, Summer 2003 Newsletter

First I'd like to say that I'm okay. Second, I hope that by reading this story, some of you might avoid a similar experience.

I have a nano-reef tank that I've recently set up at work. It's an 18-gallon softy tank where I planned to showcase zoanthids. I purchased about ten zoanthid colonies from the Logical Reef, and set up the little tank for them. About two weeks ago I noticed small nudibranchs on some of the zoanthids. I posted a message at the Reef Central bulletin board in the hopes of getting a positive ID on the nudibranch. I didn't want anything eating my new zoanthid colonies, but I wanted to make sure that removing them from the tank was the right course of action. The ID did come back as a "probable zoanthid eater", so I began to remove them I'd been picking them out of the tank for almost a week without any thought or worry. Today however was a different story.

I saw one of the little nudis on the front glass and I thought that instead of pulling it out I'd just squish it against the glass. So I reached in and with my index finger, I pressed the nudibranch into the glass. The slug was about the size of a small zoanthid polyp, or roughly the size of a pencil eraser A little of the goo that was inside the nudibranch ended up on my index finger when I squished it so I rubbed my finger against my thumb in the water pulled my hand out of the tank and wiped it off with a towel.

It only took about five seconds for me to realize something was wrong. I got a hot flash. I didn't think much of it at the time and I sat down and turned on my computer. About twenty seconds later, I had another flash, and I noticed that my heart rate was starting to increase. That's when I knew something was seriously wrong. I waited an-other thirty seconds before I turned around and told a coworker of mine to dial 911. He gave me a questioning look. I told him that I was serious, so he said "Alright", and turned around and dialed. I started to feel dizzy, and my heart was really starting to race. This was maybe ninety seconds after I squished the little nudibranch.

My coworker hung up the phone and said that help was on the way. I explained to him what had happened in case I lost consciousness before the EMTs got to me. He knows a bit about my hobby, so he understood what I was telling him. I then propped my feet up and tried to slow my breathing. It was getting harder and harder to breathe, and I could feel my heart rate increasing.

The EMTs arrived in about four minutes. My office in Washington DC is two blocks from the White House, and five blocks from George Washington Hospital, so thankfully it didn't take long for the EMTs to get to me. They came and lifted me out of my office chair, put me in a transport chair, strapped me in and gave me oxygen. They carried me out of my office, with everyone looking on, of course, into the elevator and down into the ambulance. The EMT asked me to de-scribe what was happening, so I told her I was having trouble breathing, my heart was racing and I was dizzy. She took my blood pressure. It read 150/80 and my heart rate was 115bpm. She changed me to a reclining position, turned up the oxygen, and we headed for the hospital emergency room.

It only took another three or four minutes to get to the hospital. There was some traffic at the emergency room entrance, so the EMT asked me if I could walk to a wheel chair. I said I'd try. but as soon as I stood up, I collapsed. They had to put be back on the stretcher, and took an extra thirty seconds to back the ambulance in to the dock. After being removed from the ambulance I was wheeled directly to the critical care unit. The hospital staff hooked me up to a blood pressure machine. Ten minutes had elapsed since my exposure to the nudibranch and my blood pressure was 169/70 and my heart rate was 154bpm.

They transferred me to another room, and put me back on oxygen. Three doctors arrived and started asking me questions. My fingers on both hands had started tingling, similar to the feeling when your hand "falls asleep" and you just start to get blood back into it, only twice as many pins and needles. I explained the feeling to the doctors, and described how the tingling was moving from my fingers up my arms. The sensation made it to my elbow before it started to lessen.

Fifteen to twenty minutes after exposure I began experiencing a low burning sensation in my thighs. The burning sensation moved down the inside of my legs and back up on the outside of my legs. At the twenty-five minute mark, my legs were numb. My fingers were also numb, but not to the same extent as my legs.

At the thirty minute mark, I started to shake. Not a violent movie-style shake, but a low tremble in my thighs and hands. I could not control it. The doctors needed me to sign a release form in order to give me medication, but what ended up on the paper was not really recognizable as my signature due to the shaking in my hands. The trembling intensified over the course of ten minutes, although it never got bad enough that I was bouncing around on the bed. It was really little more than a shiver like when you are really, really cold, but I couldn't stop it.

Forty minutes after exposure, the shaking started to subside. The nurse took my temperature, and it was normal. I had another couple of hot and cold flashes, and my hands began to feel cold and clammy. The doctor checked my lungs and heart with a stethoscope, and asked if I had any pain. I didn't. The doctor pulled up my shirt and checked for rashes. There were none. For the next fifteen minutes the hot flashes continued, but I could feel my heart starting to slow down. I kept taking my own pulse to make sure my heart was still beating. At 150bpm, I couldn't make out the individual beats of my heart, it was just tripping along inside my chest, and I wanted to make sure it didn't stop or start fluttering. I don't know what I would have done if it had, but somehow it made me feel better to monitor it.

Sixty minutes after exposure, there was a notice-able decrease in the number of hot flashes, and my heart had come back down to the point I could count the individual beats. The hospital staff were no longer monitoring me continuously, and my coworker and boss showed up at the hospital. I was just starting to feel better at this point, and I chatted with them for twenty minutes. It seemed like the worst was over, so my boss went back to work, and my buddy stayed with me.

He sat with me for about an hour until another doctor came in. He checked all my reflexes, asked me a couple of questions and then left. I got up to go to the bathroom, and was able to walk down the hall without too much trouble, though I was still dizzy and felt very weak.

I lay in the critical care room for another two hours as my strength slowly came back. and systems went back to normal. Around the four-hour mark, my blood pressure was back down to 132/76, which is normal for me, and my heart rate was 86bpm. I was actually feeling pretty good, and asked to be discharged. The doctor agreed and let me go home.

Diagnosis; Toxin Exposure of an unknown nature.

I'm supposed to take it easy this evening and if anything funny starts to happen, call 911 again. Honestly, I feel okay now, a little "out of it", but I think that's more from the stress than residual toxin.

One important thing to note was that even though I had described the zoanthids, and the palytoxin they are known to produce to the doctors, they were unable to find any information concerning treatment or antidotes. The hospital even called the National Aquarium in Baltimore for information and came up dry. As I was leaving the hospital, I logged one of their computers onto Reef Central and showed them the palytoxin discussions. The hospital staff was amazed. They filed the information for future use.

It's 9:20pm. I've been out of the emergency room for three hours. I guess what I want to say is, that despite the beauty of our hobby, there are inherent risks and unknown dangers. I won't stop keeping aquariums because of this incident. If anything, I've just been given a deeper respect for the creatures that come out of our oceans. But please, be aware, and be careful. After six years of uneventful reef keeping, I've come to love this hobby, and I thought I knew what was going on and had it all under control. I was put in my place today. It just goes to show you that we still all have so much to learn, and we have to be careful about how we learn it.
 

NaH2O

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Jan 25, 2004
Messages
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I saw one of the little nudis on the front glass and I thought that instead of pulling it out I'd just squish it against the glass. So I reached in and with my index finger, I pressed the nudibranch into the glass. The slug was about the size of a small zoanthid polyp, or roughly the size of a pencil eraser A little of the goo that was inside the nudibranch ended up on my index finger when I squished it so I rubbed my finger against my thumb in the water pulled my hand out of the tank and wiped it off with a towel.
Amazing that the nudibranch was the source. The palytoxin must serve as the nudibranchs defense, too.

Awesome contributions everyone!
 

Curtswearing

Mantisfreak
Joined
Nov 20, 2003
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St. Louis, MO
Yes,

Nudibranchs have no shells and move slowly. Taking on toxins of their food source is a good defense mechanism. I recommend care with any nudibranch but I would be especially careful with any nudibranch that eats zoanthids due to the palytoxin. Nudibranchs

Jase0723, here's an article that briefly describes them putting palytoxin on their spear tips. The Hawiians who originally discovered this toxin actually thought it was coming from seaweed but it turned out that it was from corals. Palytoxin
 

Beeba

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Dec 29, 2003
Messages
300
Location
Portsmouth, OH
I never realized how dangerous this hobby could be. I used to think the only danger was the degenerative wallet syndrome.
 

Curtswearing

Mantisfreak
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Nov 20, 2003
Messages
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Location
St. Louis, MO
Here is an interesting quote
First, all members of Zoanthus and Palythoids contain the highly potent neurotoxin known as palytoxin. It is found in their mucus and in their mesenteries. This toxin does not seem to affect neighboring colonies in the same way as some of the other noxious chemical secretions of corals. Rather, it appears to serve as an anti-predation defense. Delbeek and Sprung note that several predators of zoanthids are not only unaffected by palytoxin, but actively store it in their bodies and shells. Notwithstanding this fairly common behavior of certain organisms to adapt highly specialized means to cope with their environment, palytoxin has been shown in grazing studies to be an effective anti-predation compound. Irrespective of its use to the zoanthid, palytoxin is a very dangerous substance, and anyone handling zoanthids of any species should be very careful not to allow the polyps to contact any area of broken skin. Handwashing to remove mucus after handling zoanthids is absolutely required in the interest of safety. Palytoxin is also denatured by heat, and hot water hand washes will further act in loosening and solubilizing and mucosal remnants.
Zoanthids
 

jks1

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Joined
Nov 29, 2003
Messages
179
thanks Curt and all, great info. Yeah Wit I had a run in with a lionfish several years ago- painful experience.
 

NaH2O

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Jan 25, 2004
Messages
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Mycobacterium marinum

The next hazard I want to mention is Mycobacterium marinum. What is it? It is a slow growing bacteria that causes disease in fish: fish tuberculosis, piscine TB, fish granuloma (common names for the disease). As some of you might have realized, Mycobacterium marinum is a relative to what causes human tuberculosis. Why do we care about it? Humans can also be infected by it if we have or had a fish with the disease.

The symptoms that usually come with an infection from Mycobacterium marinum are a slowly developing nodule at the site the bacteria entered the body (such as a wound). The nodule can become an enlarging sore, then swelling of nearby lymph nodes. A problem of this bacteria is the fact that it is slow growing....which means you may not see symptoms for 2-4 weeks. Some reported cases took longer - on the scale of 2-4 months to develop.

How do you think we can reduce the risk of infection from M. marinum?

How do you think fish suspected of being infected with M. marinum should be handled?
 

Scooterman

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Messages
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Louisiana
I've read about this once, I've heard many ideas, treatments but when fish get sick, it isn't easy getting them back to good health.
 

Playa

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Joined
Aug 11, 2003
Messages
71
Good going Nikki, reading this thread could actually help in saving the life of more than one aquarist here or their friends and family.

I had some trouble with zoanthids while scraping polyps from a piece of live rock. Some of the liquid inside the zoo went in my eyes and in my mouth and it sent me directly to the emergency room.

Please be careful and wear gloves and gogles when dealing with Zoanthids. Keep your pets restrained away from the area. If you happen to not follow this advice and you accidentally end up getting poisoned by Palytoxin, please have someone rush you to an emergency room as soon as possible.

Luis
 
Last edited:

kevinpo

Expert
Joined
Jul 1, 2003
Messages
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Location
Spokane Valley, WA
Here is a story of what happened to me a few months ago.

I frag my tank at the rate of about 150 frags a month for the last 6-7 months. On this particular occasion I was going to remove a dozen or so blue mushrooms from the sides of my T. squamosa clam (just like I had done dozens of times over the last 7 years). I was on a 6' ladder and placed the clam on top of the tank. I got a small bucket to place the mushrooms in and began to peel them off the clam. About the 3rd or 4th one it suddenly retracted just as I grabbed it with the tweezers. I felt a tiny drop of liquid hit my eye. I didn't think much of it and wiped my eye on my shoulder and continued working. In about 1 min. my eye began to burn like nothing I've ever felt! I got to the bathroom in a heartbeat and began running cold water in it. As soon as I would stop it would begin to burn just as bad as at first. I had to go to the store and get the 150 frags mounted so away I went eye running like I was bawling. It lasted 12 hours and the skin for about 2" around my eye turned very red. My wife thought someone hit me when she saw it.
I strongly recommend wearing protective eyewear when fragging corals.

HTH,
Kevin
 
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