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Ouch! - What's stinging me? Guide to common stingers in the Maldives

How to control Crown-of-Thorns (COTs) with Vinegar

For those who decide to inject Crown-of-Thorns Starfish with vinegar through an injection gun, please read one or more of the following manuals:

Crown-of-thorns starfishcontrol manual - Introduction to the acetic acid injection method (2011) 

The Crown of Thorns Starfish - Biology, Outbreaks and Control measures (2014)

Here are practical tips on the injection method by marine biologists Stacy Mallaby and Verena W.:

- Use regular white vinegar and an injection gun. You can get them e.g. here: AMPTO Pty Ltd 2014, PO Box 6829, Cairns QLD 4870

- The day after injecting, COTs should be dead and two weeks later there should be nothing left of them.

Turn over COTS that had been injected with a metal rod or a paint roller so you wouldn't be re-injecting them and wasting solution.

The injection bottles have positive buoyancy which causes problems when descending. The bottles that you usually get supplied hold a total volume of 5L but as you only need to inject each COTS with 20 ml of solution, attach weights to the bottles (about 3kg each) to avoid positive buoyancy.

- Try to attach the bottle to your BCD to prevent it from floating around.

- Attach the hose to the bottle, or to the gun, respectively, with hose clips. The hose may detach otherwise. 

-  FIRST AID:  It would also be a good idea to have a bucket and flasks of hot water on standby at the end of the jetty/boat/wherever you are entering the water and to ensure that the onsite doctor knows when and where this is taking place and that he can be easily reached in case anything happens.

* Need inspiration for your team members? Get an inspiration how to simply explain the COT problem to resort staff, in English and Dhivehi.

Here's some rare information about COTs in Maldives from 1991:

Joining the feeding frenzy?

Written by: Verena W., MSc., Oceanoholic

published in the TMA Inflight magazine 01/2017

Is that what killed the... Australian... what was his name? – “Steve Irwin.” – “Oh yes, Steve Irwin!”. This is probably the most common phrase I have heard in my career when resort guests gather for the daily Stingray feeding activity.

Steve Irwin’s accident largely remains a mystery to many, especially to stingray feeders. With no video being released, one can refer to only a short report by the cameraman Justin Lyons who witnessed the tragic death of his friend, the famous ‘Crocodile Hunter’. While filming a documentary for the series “Ocean’s Deadliest” at Batt Reef, near Port Douglas, Queensland, Irwin reportedly decided to snorkel in shallow waters and approached a sting ray with the intention to film it swimming away. According to the incident’s only witness, “All of a sudden, it propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tail.” First believing he only had a punctured lung, the stingray’s barb pierced his heart, and in combination with a venom that wound caused him to bleed to death. Even though the so-called “official video” of the accident released on the internet is far from reality, the accident has affected people from all around the world and particularly stuns holiday-makers in the Maldives watching several sting rays, equipped with venomous serrated barbs, surrounding the only person feeding them in the shallow lagoon - fearlessly.

In the Maldives, methods, time of feeding and quality of food are as diverse as the species that are attracted by the daily frenzy. While some resorts give a show with one of their team members – up to his neck in the water - being surrounded by hungry sting rays, others let guests hand-feed the rays either from the beach or a jetty. These flat cartilaginous fish – closely related to sharks - may receive anything from fresh tuna chunks directly from the island’s butchery, to mere bony left-overs tossed into the sea. Sting rays are not the only marine creatures which gather for the treat; they may be accompanied by Blacktip Reef sharks, Nurse sharks, Bluefin jacks and Giant Trevallies or even hundreds of remoras, all of which are often more successful in grabbing the tuna chunks compared to the clumsy bottom-feeding sting rays. Injuries inflicted by trevallies to the feeder are not uncommon and though not venomous, their sharp dorsal spines can create deep wounds in humans and should not be underestimated.

It is remarkable how the sting rays can adapt to the resort’s regular feeding time, whether this may be in the late morning, afternoon, evening or even late night. Guests are surprised by their punctuality when they arrive at the shore and wait for food, be it their “inner clock” or an acquired instinct to know where to find a treat. But the effects of wildlife feeding demonstrations are controversial: Studies in Grand Cayman Island have shown strong differences between hand-fed animals that demonstrated a notable inversion of diel activity, being constantly active during the day with little movement at night, compared to the nocturnally active wild stingrays. Not only did hand-fed stingrays roam around significantly smaller activity spaces compared to their totally wild counterparts, i.e. staying rather close to the tourist sites, but they also showed a high degree of overlap in their core activity spaces, compared to wild stingrays, which are largely solitary. An increased density of individuals in a small area, altering natural behaviour and populations, possibly increased parasitic loads and injuries, and the dependency and familiarization with humans seem to contradict the argument of feeding being an example par excellence of the non-consumptive utilization of wildlife helping to spread awareness and promote conservation.

Thus, if you attend a stingray feeding attraction at a Maldivian resort, you might want to ask yourself the following questions: How much education and awareness is being provided, in comparison to how much this is altering the natural environment? Undoubtedly, humans have already changed the sting ray’s diet and diurnal cycle by providing food for them on a regular basis, but there are indicators which can help you determine at what cost to the animal this is being done:

First of all, look at the person feeding. Are they a designated individual from the resort, educated in stingray biology? What is the quality of food – unspoiled cuttings from the kitchen, or clearly bony left-overs infested by flies? How much information is given on stingray behaviour and their anatomy, with a focus on the venomous barb? How much attention is being given to safety: are guests allowed to go into the water with the stingrays during the feeding hour? Check for serious injuries on the stingray’s upper body – deep wounds are signs of an uncontrolled feeding frenzy (unless only found on females during mating time). Touching of the sensitive fish skin should never be allowed in order to avoid giving the creatures infections. Also, see if any other animals have access to the same food, in particular sharks, which are likely to lose their natural respect for humans when being fed by them, and could eventually end up demonstrating aggressive behaviour towards snorkelers.

Should you find yourself snorkeling in a shallow lagoon and stingrays surround you, you have likely entered a feeding area at a time close to the event. Stay calm and do not make any quick movements, slowly swim away from the area and either get back to the shore or continue your snorkel trip at the reef edge. Even though sting rays may be over-excited and repeatedly come back to you around the feeding time, they are very unlikely to attack humans unless feeling severely threatened. These alien-looking creatures may possess a dangerous weapon on their tail, but are in fact gentle giants which will only strike out when in fear of an extreme threat. Rather like puppies, they get excited at the prospect of food, and just like with canines; show them the respect in the way you treat them and in return they will do the same with you.