Things to Avoid While in the Water

Enjoy the Beautiful Waters of Virgin Islands National Park

"Look But Don't Touch!"
Elkhorn Coral Photo by Judy Buchholz


Contact with corals can cause severe damage to them, and injury or infection to you.
Prevention: Always stay a safe distance from the reef. Do not kick or step on corals while snorkeling. Stand only in sand.
Symptoms: Cuts and abrasions.
Remedy: Clean wound thoroughly.

Long-spined sea urchin

Long-spined Sea Urchins

Found in reefs, seagrass beds or on rock piles on the sea floor, these urchins have long spines that puncture the skin if stepped on or touched. The spines are usually absorbed in a few days. Do not try to pull spines out. In some cases, they may have to be removed by a doctor.
Prevention: Avoid any contact with urchins.
Symptoms: Redness, pain and swelling.
Remedy: Soak the wound in hot water. Vinegar may help dissolve the spines.

NPS Photo


These non-native fish have poisonous venom-tipped spines.
Prevention: Do not approach.
Symptoms: Swelling and intense pain. If systemic allergic reaction occurs, seek immediate medical attention.
Remedy: Soak area in hot water and seek medical attention.

Fire Coral
Fire Coral

Fire Coral

These corals have strong stinging cells and are either blade-like (shown) or encrusting (flat), and are mustard-yellow to dark orange, often with white edges.
Prevention: Do not touch any corals.
Symptoms: Painful burning sensation, rash, redness, tingling, itching, welts and allergic reactions.
Remedy: Rubbing alcohol or meat tenderizer may help alleviate the pain. 

upsidedown Jellyfish
Upside Down Jellyfish photo by Judy Buchholz

Jellyfish and Sea Wasps

These animals are not commonly found in waters here. Avoidance is the best practice. Jellyfish and sea wasps both have soft gelatinous bodies with long stinging tentacles that discharge when touched.
Symptoms: Mild stinging, itching and redness to severe allergic reaction and anaphylactic shock.
Remedy: Tentacles must be removed from skin or will continue to fire. Bare hands should not be used to remove tentacles. Vinegar may relieve the pain.



Hydroids resemble a feathery plant, related to jellyfish and corals, and have strong stinging cells. Find them attached to rocks and plants, particularly mangrove roots, on docks, buoys and mooring lines.
Prevention: Be aware of your surroundings, and do not touch marine life.
Symptoms: Burning, itching, inflammation, swelling and pain. Sunburn and hot water may increase the symptoms.
Remedy: Rinse with vinegar. If allergic reaction occurs, seek immediate medical attention.



Eels are usually found in rock piles, under coral ledges and in caves. Eels are not aggressive by nature but can attack if provoked.
Prevention: Do not attempt to touch or feed an eel. Do not put hands in rock crevices or holes.
Remedy: Seek immediate medical attention if bitten.

Scorpion Fish


Excellent camouflage helps these fish blend into seagrass, coral reef and rocky habitats. Venomous spines line the dorsal, anal and pectoral fins.
Prevention: Shuffling feet when entering the water and not touching the sea floor may prevent injury from a scorpionfish.
Symptoms: Swelling and intense pain. Seek immediate medical attention if allergic reaction occurs.
Remedy: Soaking in hot water may alleviate the pain.

Fire Worm
Fire or Bristle Worm

Fire/Bristle Worm

Fireworms, or bristleworms, are commonly found in sea grass, on or under boulders, and coral. Thousands of fine venom-filled, needle-like bristles can break off and become embedded in the skin.
Prevention: Do not touch marine life.
Symptoms: Pain, burning, itching and redness.
Remedy: Bristles may be removed by using adhesive tape. Ammonia may help relieve pain.



Shark attacks are extremely rare in the Virgin Islands.
Prevention: Avoid waters being fished or where fish are being cleaned. Do not swim at night or at dusk and dawn. Remove shiny jewelry and do not enter the water if you are bleeding. Move out of the area or exit the water if a shark approaches too close, makes sudden movements or appears agitated.
Remedy: Seek medical care immediately if bitten.


Stand Only in Sand, Never on Coral

Download the Things to Avoid While in the Water for future reference.

Last updated: February 11, 2019

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1300 Cruz Bay Creek
St. John, VI 00830


340 776-6201
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