Snorkeling in the Solomon’s: Is this Close Enough?

Incredible ocean life can be found while snorkeling around the Solomon Islands, a nation comprised of hundreds of islands in the South Pacific.  Located about three hours off the west coast of Australia, the area is known as the Golden Triangle because of the extensiveness of the amazing coral formations. I had been on other snorkeling trips, but this trip was my first snorkeling trip centered on coral.

I was mesmerized by all the exotic animals and plant life below the surface of the water and I had no problems spending all of my allotted time in the water exploring and photographing the living world beneath me.                                                                     My biggest challenge was trying to take halfway decent photographs while fighting the constant ocean current.

Our main guide, Nathan, would give us the morning briefing of where we were going and what types of sea life we could expect to encounter on our daily snorkel excursions.  To get the best obtainable photos, Nathan strongly encouraged us to move in as close as possible.

One day, while snorkeling with Nathan, he pointed out a Lionfish and again reminded me to not be afraid to get in close to take my photos.

I was determined to get photographs suitable for a magazine spread and spent much of the next hour following Nathan’s advice by getting right up to this fish to get good shots.

Eventually, I heard the sound of the outboard boat motor which meant it was time to finish up and get back.

Later that evening at dinner as I impressed the other tour members by proudly showing off my fabulous up-close-and-personal photos of this lionfish, one of the tour members commented, “that’s great you got those photos, but you DO know those fish are poisonous, right?”

Oh! Really?  They are?  Nathan never mentioned there was an actual limit to HOW close I should get….Oops; Who knew?  Obviously, not me. 

Following my snorkeling expedition and lionfish encounter, of course I had to do my own research on lionfish.  Below are some facts of lionfish that I found very interesting:

Lionfish are not poisonous, they are venomous. The difference between poison and venom is the method of delivery. Venom must be injected into the bloodstream to cause injury, such as through a sharp spine or fang, but is harmless if drunk or eaten. Poison must be ingested or absorbed to be harmful; lionfish carry no poison in the edible meat of the fish.

The venom found in the needle-sharp dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins of a lionfish is NOT deadly to an otherwise healthy human being, though envenomation WILL cause an immense amount of localized pain, swelling and, in some instances, blistering and infection if not treated properly. It is possible for some people to have an allergic reaction to the venom, which comes with a host of potentially deadly complications resulting from anaphylactic shock, which could also be caused by any other serious allergy to bee stings or eating shellfish.

Destruction caused by lionfish invasion in Florida and the Caribbean:  Native to reefs off Indonesia, lionfish don’t throw marine ecosystems out of balance in their Indo-Pacific region, but in the Atlantic, research shows the rapid increase in lionfish coincided with a 65-percent native fish decline during a two-year period. The first lionfish was found off the coast of Florida in 1985, believed to have been released from someone’s personal aquarium. Since then, the fish have spread rapidly from the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of Rhode Island.  These visually stunning fish with their maroon and white stripes and long, fanlike fins, are considered the most destructive exotic species in marine waters off Florida and the Caribbean because of their voracious appetites.  Lionfish consume dozens of organisms in one feeding, drastically reducing other fish populations and altering delicate reef ecosystems.  Further adding to the continued invasion problem is that lionfish can spawn every four days in warmer climates with females releasing two gelatinous egg masses of about 12,000 to 15,000 eggs each which can float and can drift for about 25 days.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages people to remove lionfish from Florida waters to help limit negative impacts to native marine life and ecosystems. Lionfish can be speared, caught in hand-held nets or on hook and line, and there is no recreational or commercial bag limit.