Ciguatera Strikes!

(Malpais, Costa Rica)

Like Santa Claus’ inevitable weight problem due to all those chimney-side milk and cookies, it was only a matter of time before the fish crazed Gregory Evans was plagued with a bout of ciguatera. Ciguatera is a type of food poisoning contracted by eating reef fish whose flesh contains the ciguatera toxin (more in-depth info here and here).

The toxin, which is harmless to the fish, works cumulatively. Small reef fish, such as parrots, eat the contaminated reef. Then large predator fish like barracuda, grouper, and snapper eat those fish building up the toxin in their flesh. Finally, we eat the predator fish. Now, we’ve heard the locals of the tropics can have a better tolerance towards the ciguaterra toxin, and that the effects are also cumulative in the human body. Supposedly everyone can a take a little of the poison, but it sits there waiting for more of its kind building up a small bomb that’s waiting to go off should you hit the magic amount.

An amount Gregory teetered over two nights ago. I won’t delve into the nasty details, but he spent the majority of the night with a bucket in the cockpit. We spent the next morning going through everything we had all ate, as Max and I weren’t sick at all and it was so similar to food poisoning. We didn’t come up with any concrete answers, we had all eaten the same things, and as Gregory rehydrated he put on a good show pushing any symptoms to the back of his mind. He went surfing like every other day, but wasn’t his regular over-the-top self.

Then today Max whipped us up some delicious tostadas dip with the Mahi they recently caught. All was well – not exactly actually, Gregory was complaining of being slightly nauseous all day and insisted he was a better surfer than he latest attempts – until night fell. Tonight another night passed with Greg spending more time out of bed than in it. On one rare occasion when he was in bed, he announced “It’s ciguatera, it’s got to be.” This was the first time we put a name to his ailment and I think that small accomplishment did loads to help. At least the mystery was solved.

We’ve been aware of ciguatera since the beginning of our sailing adventure. We’ve been cautious not to eat barracuda or any other red light fish when they’ve been known in the area. Like I said though, I guess it was just a matter of time.

Watching Greg struggle all night had me out of bed at 1 am after the diagnosis googling any possible remedies. Here’s what I found: “There is no effective treatment or antidote for ciguatera poisoning.” Awesome. All we could do was try Benadryl, an antihistamine, to knock him out and drive water and sugary foods into him when he could stomach it.

Long story short, Max and I are perfectly fine and could have a feast of Mahi, Mackerel, and Snapper today and skip away with a smile on our faces and stomachs. Greg, on the other hand, is on a no fish diet for the coming weeks. Hopefully his exposure was mild and he’ll bounce back in no time. For now though, he’s happy to read the toxin can affect your balance and insist this is why his surfing hasn’t been pro-level for the last couple days.


The morning after the first attack.


Max, completely fine, put to work scraping boards.


Completely delicious to me, evidently deadly to Greg.


Giving the Bonsai a quick hair cut. Check out the basil and mint in the background. After some large failures, my boat green-thumb is getting much better.


Seemingly alright, the boys suit up for this mornings surf session.


Their serious looks aren’t so serious.


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