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Okinawa home to beautiful, dangerous wildlife

11 Jul 2013 | Lance Cpl. Peter Sanders

CAMP FOSTER, Japan - Most people new to Okinawa have been informed about poisonous wildlife at some point during their orientation. These presentations inform military members and their families of which creatures can make the wonderment of Okinawa turn into a life or death situation.

These dangerous animals are found in the water surrounding Okinawa, and on the land as well.

Usually only a nuisance, insect bites and stings can cause serious allergic reactions, according to Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher L. Sauro, with Preventive Medicine, U.S. Naval Hospital, Okinawa.

To alleviate this risk and keep insects at bay, use bug sprays and repellants. 

One insect that can be deadly is the brown widow spider, which is characterized by a red, hourglass shape on the underside of the abdomen and dark stripes on its legs. If bitten by one of these, seek medical assistance immediately.

Okinawa’s habu snake is one of the most feared creatures on island, according to Sauro. The habu is a pit viper, and has highly toxic venom coupled with aggressive behavior. Just like the brown widow spider, if bitten by a habu one must seek emergency medical attention.

The water around Okinawa is home to many unique animals, according to Erin M. Belden, the operations supervisor at Tsunami Scuba, Marine Corps Community Services. 

One dangerous creature commonly found is the sea snake. The sea snake has venom that rivals a cobra’s, but they are usually passive and are known to swim away rather than attack.

Another sea creature that warrants caution is the jellyfish, which is more common in the summer months, according to Mark T. Kelley, the chief scuba instructor at Tsunami Scuba.

“If stung by a jelly fish, a swimmer can potentially go into shock and drown,” said Kelley. “The best treatment is to have your buddy help you to shore and pour vinegar over the affected area, and avoid touching or rubbing the area until all of the stingers have been neutralized.”

Other common water injuries involving sea life result from cuts and lacerations from coral, according to Belden.

“Most coral can cause cuts or lacerations, which can be very painful and get infected,” said Belden. “Some coral, such as fire coral, have venomous needles, and can irritate the area and cause a burning sensation.”

Other sea life to look out for includes sea urchins, stone fish and lion fish, according to Belden. 

These animals have sharp, needle-like spines or fins, which are toxic and can break off under the skin, cause extreme pain and in some cases death.

Many dangerous and potentially deadly encounters with the wild can be avoided, according to Kelley.

“The best way to keep wildlife from attacking is to look, but don’t touch,” said Kelley. “And always be sure to wear the proper personal protective equipment related to whatever activity you are participating in.”

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