I took two nice long swims; one yesterday at Hawksnest and another, the day before at Trunk. I kept feeling these little stings , but didn’t see anything and the pain only lasted for a second or two, so I just kept on swimming. But now I have all these little bumps and they ITCH!!!
The probable culprit, a stinging plankton with the disgusting name “sea lice.” These tiny plankton, some so small that you can’t even see them, have a microscopic little barb called a nematocyst that activates when the plankton makes contact with something, like another plankton or small fish or you, and releases an irritating protein, that can develop into a itchy, itchy, itch later on.
I can attest to their presence at Hawknest and Trunk Bays and I’ve heard reports from Caneel Bay and even out on the East End, so it looks like they’ll be around for a while, until that evil tide or current that brought then this way takes them somewhere else. The sooner the better!
Treatment is a really hot shower, like as hot as you can stand it and then vinegar or a meat tenderizer paste to break down the protein. Helps a bit, but you can count on the itch coming back after a while. The itching usually lasts a few days to as much as a week.
I’ve found that this stuff you can get a Chelsea, Benadryl Itch Stopping Gel, is effective, at least for a time.
These plankton, along with other possible itchy-stingy organisms like jellyfish, for example, exist in the sea at all times, but usually in such small concentrations that that they won’t ever be a nuisance. Now apparently, there are enough of them around our bays to virtually guarantee an encounter.
The question I have is, how will we know when its safe to take a swim without paying that itching price? I think I’ll wait for someone (besides me) brave enough to test out the situation emerges from a long swim or snorkel and lets me know that they didn’t feel any little stings.