By Linah Benyawa
Visitors to beaches in the coastal city of Mombasa will now have to keep a watchful eye following the emergence of a stonefish.
Authorities have issued a stern warning saying the heavily poisonous fish has washed up the shores of Mombasa’s old port, occasioning a scare among fisheries authorities, swimmers and consumers.
Foreign and local tourists visiting the Kenyan Coast this festive season have been cautioned to be careful while at the beaches after the venomous species of fish was found at the sea.
Belonging to the marine genus Synanceia, the stonefish delivers a poison or neurotoxin that is fatal to humans through glands in its dorsal fin.
A fish biologist, Rashid Anam, warned on Sunday that this is “the most venomous fish in the world”, with its sting being highly dangerous and “known to cause death”.
Anam, a marine scientist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute, warned on Sunday that the most vulnerable victims of the fish’s sting are swimmers because the stonefish is a master of camouflage.
He said most victims are reef walkers while clad in either flimsy shoes or without shoes.
“Those visiting the beaches should be very cautious and should not walk barefooted since the fish sometimes buries itself in sand and once stepped on, the sting is poisonous leading to death if one is not treated immediately,” he added.
On Sunday, fishermen at the old port of Mombasa netted the fish and immediately warned swimmers about the looming danger.
The fish, which had human-like features such as a nose, two eyes and a mouth, shocked locals.
Fisherman Abbas Musa, who accidentally caught the fish in his net, was shocked to find the rare species.
Rare and poisonous
“This type of fish is very rare and poisonous. It cannot even be touched due to its venomous nature and that’s why we were shocked to net it,” said Musa.
He added that locals did not need to be alarmed, but should be aware and cautious.
Old Town Fishermen Association chair Akbar Khan warned that when disturbed, the fish releases the poison that spreads fast all over the leg. This could lead to amputation if a victim is not treated on time.
“The fish can sometimes camouflage itself on rocks and one could step on it unknowingly while standing on the rocks. That is why we are asking foreigners, domestic tourists and locals to be on the lookout while at the beaches,” said Kana.
The stonefish is said to be a predator that normally hides from its prey, mainly small fish.
It also uses its spines to defend itself against bottom-dwelling stingrays and sharks that may try to eat it.
Anam warned that the fish’s main habitat is on coral reefs and around dull, coloured plants.
“The stonefish can survive out of water for up to 24 hours and due to its camouflage nature, it can hide in mud hence becoming dangerous even to children who like playing with mud,” he warned.