Ciguatera poisoning in Aitutaki

Outside the pass in Aitutaki there was really great spear gun fishing - large parrots, surgeons, groupers. We had heard by some that Aitutaki was completely ciguatera-free (see explanation at bottom) but some had said there were fish you should not eat. We speared all in all about seven fish together with a couple friends from other boats. To be safe I went into the harbour to ask some locals for advice, showing our catch to them. “No problem man, it’s all good fish!”. Ok great, we knew those blue spotted groupers could be toxic in the Tuamotus but apparently not here, sweet! We all had a great dinner together, eating the two groupers and a big surgeon fish.

Not so sweet it turned out. The first night two got sick, one vomited, one diarrhea. Next day Simon gets very fatigued, so much that he chose not to come to the lagoon snorkel expedition - then we know it’s serious! On day two after eating I get a weird sensation when drinking some water from the fridge, it burns my mouth and my hands! Look it up on Wikipedia and it’s a classic ciguatera symptom. Then I become weak, muscles feel like after a workout but not in a good way. I get head ache. Skin scratches and I can’t sleep. Day 3 more fatigue and now pain in the calves muscles. Not any unbearable pain but it makes it impossible to sleep.

Today day five I have no direct pain but a new interesting symptom has developed: numbness in fingers and feet, like they are not getting enough blood into them. Also still this weird burning when I drink cold. Have been able to get some sleep thought and feel a lot better generally. It is really scary to know the symptoms are from a toxin affecting the nerves and they could last for some weeks or up to 20 years! And they might be triggered again later from such essential activities as alcohol drinking and exercise (ref: Wikipedia). Knowing all this we will be A LOT more careful in the future. If a fish is bad in one place - skip it everywhere. When asking locals, try to find an actual fisherman and try and ask more than one. Chances are the guy you end up asking know more about Chicken McNuggets than fish.

Hampus luckily only ate of the surgeon fish and was not affected at all so we are quite sure it was the grouper that was toxic. Below is a picture of some blue spotted groupers we caught earlier and did not eat. Looking in my Coral Reef Fishes book I’m not sure if they are “peacock grouper”, “starry grouper” or “spotted coralgrouper”. I would just stay away from groupers in general and the ones with blue spots in particular. Right now I’m not eating any reef fish, only ocean fish.

Bad groupers
Bad groupers! There were caught earlier and not eaten.

Johan and Simon are both pretty much OK by now. We have been very worried for Jerome on Tangaroa, he ate a lot of grouper and got very sick. And he is sailing alone and really need his strength. Luckily he just came into the harbour here in Niue! We just talked and he has just like me some shifting symptoms that are more strange and annoying than causing any hard pain. He also has a much more optimistic disposition than me and practices the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger"-mindset, the poison will somehow change and clean the body. Let's hope he's right!

About ciguatera, from our Makemo post
Ciguatera is a food borne illness created by a toxin made by marine plankton. These plankton live in coral reefs and are eaten by herbivore fish that in turn are eaten by bigger predatory fish and it all keeps accumulating until a human eat the biggest fish.

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