Have You Touched Fire Coral While Snorkeling?

If you have ever touched fire coral while snorkeling, please share your experience by commenting below.

How much did it hurt? What happened to your skin? How long did it take to stop hurting and heal up? What methods or medicines did you use to help the problem?

Fire Coral is common in very shallow water around the world. It is actually not coral, but is more closely related to hydrozoans, and it has stinging nematocysts. Even light contact with skin can cause intense pain, with after effects lasting up to a few weeks later. Deeper wounds can be more dangerous, because tissue necrosis may occur. There are a number of different varieties of it. But it is usually yellow in color, with a white top edge. It can have long blade like shapes, be in box shapes, or have many branches. See different pictures of fire corals from around the world here.

7 Comments

  1. I brushed my calf muscle against fire coral while trying to push my wife and daughters away from it. The current was pushing us toward it and I managed getting them clear but took a nasty hit on my lower leg. It burned like crazy and by the time we got back to our lodging my calf muscle had turned reddish purple and was hard like wood.

    We were directed to a clinic where a doctor that looked to only be a teenager sent me to the pharmacy to pick up two syringes with medicine of some sort and some salve. He then gave me one of the shots and sent me home with the other. By this time my lower leg had turned almost black and felt hard as a rock. He told me to take the other shot when I got home as we left later that day.

    I went into my doctor the next day but they threw the syringe and salve away and gave me new medications. It healed up fairly quickly but I think it was whatever they gave me in Mexico that healed me.

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  2. In Grand Cayman we entered the water at Queens monument. I was still new to snorkeling and it was shallow and already rocky and I was trying my best to float above everything when my thigh brushed against some fire coral. It was superficial, but stung really bad for several days. I am quite a bit more careful now years later and preach to my friends to be careful. When I got home I told everyone I was bit by a coral shark. lol.

    Thanks for all your information about Bonaire as we are going there in April 2023 and couldn’t be more excited. We already got some new cute water shoes and my group also has purchased shoes as well to protect our feet from fire coral on entering the water. I am going to check out the reef safe suntan lotion you reviewed.

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  3. I believe my arm touched a rope delineating a “swim area” in Caribbean. The pain was intense and welts remained for months after even though I applied steroid cream. Now I’m afraid of ropes! Look out!

    Also when staying in a private villa in Bonaire with dock steps leading to direct ocean access, my daughter sat on the last step entering the water while putting on fins. Intense pain and swelling on back of thighs occurred.

    So everyone should be aware that not only fire coral on ocean bottom can harm you. Watch out for steps and ropes as well!

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  4. I touched fire coral while getting onto a pier ladder in Roatan. A boat came by and the wake/current pushed my leg onto the pier pilings next to the ladder. Yes they grow on wood pilings too so be aware.

    I immediately knew what happened since I saw the fire coral as I was swimming to the ladder to get out of the water. It burned like poison oak and I immediately went inside and took a shower since my rental house was close by. That helped to get it cleaned off.

    It burned for a few days but not enough to stop me from going in the water the next day. I actually found that after a shower and bandages day one, the salt water the next day seemed to help heal it.

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  5. While living in south Florida my girlfriend and I went searching for lobster under some of the cuts under US 1 bridges between Key Largo and Key West. It’s truly amazing the variety of things you can see under the bridges.

    One thing of which we had to be especially careful was being sensitive to the in and out tidal movement. If you dropped down below the bridge between the shifts of the tide there was an amazing variety of wildlife and of course lobster.

    My girlfriend was not very adept at swimming but I assured her that except for right underneath the bridge itself any problem could be resolved by simply standing up as the water was only waist deep.

    Under one particular bridge two things happened in quick succession: the tide changed very quickly as it always did; but this time it brought a dead shark which hit her in the back. Since it was floating upside down I wasn’t concerned, but she had a strong reaction when she first saw the shark. The shark combined with the rapidly increasing tide led to her losing her cool and she immediately surfaced looking for the quickest way to ‘safety’.

    I wasn’t especially concerned given that she could simply float a short distance away from the bridge and stand up and walk out. Unfortunately she wasn’t thinking clearly and wrapped herself around one of the upright supports for the bridge – which turned out to be completely covered in fire coral. I saw her anxiety and immediately grabbed onto her and pulled her to the shallow but she was in so much agony it was extremely sad. She had bear hugged the upright and so had fire coral “burns” on the inside of her thighs and calves, on her stomach and chest and on the insides of both arms.

    We immediately headed back to Miami to get some medical care. This is one lobster dinner that was not especially appreciated.

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  6. A group circle snorkel (we were being herded because of potential Bull Shark encounters) was pushed into our exit area. We had been cautioned about fire coral, but we’re pushed into this area by our jetski escort. As we approached the shallows the current pushed me across the fire coral and my knee took a glancing blow, I knew immediately what happened.

    Out of the water, I told our senior guide about the pain, we ducked into the restaurant kitchen next door and acquired a quick pour of vinegar on my reddening wound. It helped but continued to burn for several more hours.

    Ah, good times in the Bahamas…

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  7. I touched a fire coral in Hurghada, Egypt. The current pushed my leg onto a metal pier pillar where the yellow fire coral was growing around it. Instantly I felt it hurting like burning. Immediately I got out from the water and this was a HUGE mistake. Later I found out salty water is the best treatment and that I should have stayed for at least half an hour in the water, allowing it to help in the healing and calming it down.

    I was sent to the hotel pharmacy where I was prescribed a betamethasone cream. My leg’s affected area was red, hot, hard, and swollen and only disappeared completely after more than two months. The cream helped a lot with the pain.

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