Following fresh reports of suspected palytoxin poisoning, OATA is reissuing guidance to help marine aquarium hobbyists who keep corals protect themselves against this type of incident. Corals, like any animals, just need some care when handling and are perfectly safe if this is done properly.

Palytoxin is produced by species of Palythoa and Zoanthus soft corals with Palythoa species generally considered to be more toxic than Zoanthus species. However, as many hobbyists may not be able to distinguish between them, the collective term of ‘zoantharians’ is used.

The greatest risk of palytoxin poisoning comes from exposing the slime coating produced by zoantharians to air. Wherever possible, marine animals should be handled underwater and fully submerged. They should not be lifted out of the aquarium unnecessarily. If hobbyists do need to transfer them, the advice is to do so using submerged plastic bags, containers or buckets.

Greatest care needs to be taken when breaking down an aquarium, fragging, cleaning live rock or removing unwanted corals. The aim should be to ensure the coral/live rock is submerged at all times. Activities that could release the toxin into the air and should be avoided include:

  • pouring boiling/hot water over live rock/zoantharian colonies
  • microwaving live rock/coral frag plugs
  • pressure (steam) cleaning aquarium ornaments or rock which may have been colonised by zoantharians
  • washing live rock under running water /using a water sprayer (especially if using a brush as well)

Read the advice leaflet here.

Read Health Protection Scotland’s Recommended Clean Up Procedures following Palytoxin Incidents here.

The main symptoms of palytoxin poisoning following exposure either via the skin, eyes or by inhalation are: Fever (more than 38°C), cough, headache, difficulty breathing, sore throat, runny nose, chest pain, rapid heart rate, skin redness/rash, swelling, numbness/tingling, muscle pain, irritation of the eye, sensitivity to light and conjunctivitis. Additional indicators may in-clude the detection of a foul smell or a bitter/metallic taste in the mouth.

Thank you to Tropical Marine Centre for the use of the photo.