A crown-of-thorns starfish can cause severe pain if the spines penetrate your skin. Local remedies include placing the offending animal over the injury, presumably in the belief that the sucker feet will pull detached spines from the wound.
The Snorkeller’s Guide to the Coral Reef, Paddy Ryan

“Sure, sure, sure,” think I, flicking through the book prior to the resort’s next snorkelling expedition. I was more interested in looking at the various kinds of tropical fish to be seen in Fiji’s warm, shallow waters, but I resolved to be cautious of coral cuts, spiny-looking starfish and shellfish with toxic harpoons.

Plantation Island was a great place to snorkel from. Ten minutes in a boat had a dozen or so snorkellers out on the reef, parked on a sandspit just a few minutes leisurely swim from the fish, coral, sponges, starfish, sea lilies etc. Half the people sploshing around were relatives — hardly surprising given that there were 26 of the Hyde clan staying at the resort as part of a long-overdue family get-together.

I was sitting in the sandy shallows chatting to my sister-in-law Cheryl and her daughter Renée as they took off their masks and flippers when Cheryl suddenly fell over, exclaiming that she’d stood on something. A quick look under the water and I spotted the culprit — “it’s a sea urchin…hang on a minute…oh-oh…it’s got arms… I think it’s a crown-of-thorns starfish.”

I recalled one of the other lines in Paddy Ryan’s first aid section — “extensive tissue damage” — and went to tell the boat skipper to see if he knew what to do. Peter stood by to mark the creature while Cheryl limped up on to the sand.

It was a crown-of-thorns. The skipper picked it up carefully, flipped it over and flattened it out on the sand, and then gestured for Cheryl to stand on the moving mat of sucker feet. Her punctured toes were hurting by that time and we could see 3-4 black specks of broken-off spines within her foot. Fifteen minutes later and the spines were gone, though a couple of the sucker feet still clung to Cheryl’s foot independently of the troublesome starfish.

It’s all-too-easy to be skeptical about “local remedies” — and, in many cases, justifiably so — but one has to be aware that people can develop a useful knowledge base of how to operate in their own environment. It’s just a matter of ensuring what sort of sucker is involved!

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