One of the most awesome and dangerous adventures that you may have in your lifetime is to snorkel with the rays in Stingray City Grand Cayman. They go flying through the water at break neck speeds and they sneak up on unsuspecting snorkelers slipping across any exposed skin with their warm feathery touch. The snorkeler is lulled into a false sense of security. The rays become less in number as the sun sinks on the horizon and soon after the mighty orb makes its green splash into the distant blue of the ocean the rays disappear. The snorkeler bathed in the euphoric warmth soon begins to notice that the night still holds that warmth from the invisible touch caused by the rays. By then it is too late. The damage caused by the rays has already taken hold. The warmth continues to strengthen. The skin begins to taken on a reddish hue which becomes tender to the touch with the passage of time. The skin continues to redden and the tenderness can intensify to the point where the mere act of putting on a shirt can become unbearable. Ahh but do not believe that the rays of which I speak are those of which Grand Cayman has become famous. The rays I am talking about are the Ultra Violet Rays from the sun.
Ultra violet rays are waves of electromagnetic radiation which are invisible to the naked human eye but can have adverse and damaging effects to the naked human body. The main source of most of the Ultra Violet (UV) rays is attributed to our sun. The effects of the sun’s UV rays on bare skin can range from varying degrees of sunburn, premature aging of the skin all the way to cancer. Limiting exposure times to the sun is the most obvious form of protection against the harmful effects of the sun but because everyone is different, setting time limits for exposure that would suit everyone would be impossible.
Snorkelers are more at risk for the serious forms of sunburn on unprotected skin because of water’s ability to absorb heat. A human loses heat in water 20 times faster than they would in air. Because the water is constantly cooling the body, the snorkeler doesn’t realize they are sunburned until after they have been out of the water for awhile.
The various sunscreens on the market are often used with success out of the water but their use in water can make them less effective as the water may wash them off. It has been also suggested that the chemicals used in various sunscreens can have an adverse effect on the reefs and other marine life as the leech into the water. The best preventative so far for snorkelers is to cover bare skin with rash guards, dive lycra skins, neoprene shorties or even one piece neoprene jump suits.
Rash guards are usually long or short sleeved shirts made of lycra and/or spandex material which provide a suitable barrier against the sun’s harmful rays. They are form fitting and breathable, allowing water and air to circulate along the skin. Rash guards will usually have a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating associated with the material. Naturally the higher the number, the better the protection. While not as good, wearing a t-shirt will work in a pinch. There will usually not be a UPF rating on them but the closer the weave and the darker the color is usually better that having a plain white one.
Now about our friends, the Southern Stingrays… there are a few incidents in the world that have harmed humans but like any other underwater creatures, we are visiting their home and respect their space.