I have recently returned from a short holiday in ‘Paradise’ – or to be more accurate a tiny island in an isolated atoll in a wide ocean – or to be more precise: Fonimagoodhoo Island in Baa Atoll in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. We spent a week on this delightful island, which measures approx 600m x 200m, encircled by a white sand beach and surrounded by a coral reefs dropping off into the deep blue ocean. The temperature was balmy, the sun beamed, the translucent water sparkled. Stunning! Attractive restaurants and beach bars supplied delicious food and enticing cocktails and we walked everywhere in bare feet on tiny sandy paths beneath luxuriant green vegetation and trees. Glorious!
There was little else to do other than lie in the sun or retreat to the shade, doze, read books and swim. Bliss! In the clear water we found the way through to the edge of the reef where we snorkelled and watched the tropical fish as they swam around the coral. Wonderful! I am a very competent swimmer and an enthusiastic watcher of fish. I do not like to wear fins or wetsuits, and can swim happily for hours with just a snorkel and breathing tube. There were three gaps through the inner reef which was shallow, which gave access to the outer reef edge where more and larger fish were to be found – including rays and reef sharks (Apparently they are harmless, although a few days before, I had seen one larger than myself swimming alongside me and my heart did beat a bit faster, but he lazily turned and meandered off.)
One morning, on our third day there, I was swimming along the outer reef from one end to the other in company with two others. After about an hour, I was two thirds of the way along, when I suddenly had a sharp pain in my leg. I realised I’d been bitten when I saw blood clouding the clear water. Then I saw this large yellow and grey fish (about 2½ft x 1ft in size) swim straight at me again, like an exocet, and this time he only managed a small bite, by which time I was flailing around and kicking trying to ward him off. Panic! My fellow snorkeller watched it all happen and wisely kept clear. The big fish made three more runs at me, by which time I was swimming in the opposite direction towards the shore. Fear made me move fast. I soon saw that I was getting closer to the coral as the water became shallower (I had not come through the gap), so I had to slow down and swim carefully as the coral was a few inches below my body.
Back on the beach, I was taken to the doctor on the island, and he told me that the culprit was a giant triggerfish, which is known to be aggressive and occasionally bites swimmers. Usually they just nibble away at coral with their sharp teeth. Mine was the worse bite he’d seen for a year, he cheerfully told me, as he stitched the wound. Painful! No more swimming, he said, and I should go onto antibiotics immediately. So no more alcohol either. Dismal! But he was kind and changed the dressing each day. I didn’t let the incident spoil my holiday – I read lots of books and sampled every single non-alcoholic cocktail on the island! The wound was sore and became infected, red and swollen. But its alright now and there’s an impressive scab!
I discovered that Titan Triggerfish are often more aggressive than sharks, especially when you swim into their ‘cone’ – the space above their ‘nest’. They patrol it and when they see an intruder, they raise up their top fin (the ‘trigger’) and attack. I found numbers of videos on YouTube of triggerfish attacking snorkellers and nipping their fins. But none showed a triggerfish sinking its sharp teeth into someone’s leg! I’m told I must not blame the fish – it’s in their nature. Their nasty nature!
Needless to say, back in the UK, the staff at my doctors surgery found the idea of my being bitten by a giant fish hugely amusing. I’ve found it raises a few laughs (but little sympathy) in the local pub. Why should it be so dreadful when a dog bites someone, and so very entertaining when a fish does? I’ve been snorkelling for years in many different places and successfully avoided stingrays, sharks, sea urchins, poisonous pufferfish and stinging coral. I’d never before encountered big triggerfish with their pointed teeth, but I shall keep well clear of them the future! I shall flaunt an elegant scar on my leg. Every scar tells a story. And I’m a storyteller.