Home » Blog » A Sunny Day at Pigeon Cay, Plus a PSA (Phytophotodermatitis…What’s that you say?)

A Sunny Day at Pigeon Cay, Plus a PSA (Phytophotodermatitis…What’s that you say?)

Remember when I was super excited about it being slow season, offering us a much-deserved opportunity to actually see this beautiful island we call home? Welp, turns out I still couldn’t really figure out how to take time away from work. So many lessons learned.

However, I do have awesome friends here on this island, and they managed to check at least one thing off that little list of mine. In honor of the lovely Sarah hosting her brother and his girlfriend for a week of scuba diving bliss, and courtesy of the incredibly well-connected and creative Nick and Caroline, we managed to get an amazing deal on a day-trip out to Pigeon Cay.

The only map I could find with Pigeon Cay even mentioned...it's that small!

The only map I could find with Pigeon Cay even mentioned…it’s that small! Credit www.skin-diver.com

Pigeon Cay: A Favorite Roatan Day-trip

Pigeon Cay is one of many small sandy dots of island off the coast of Roatan. It’s a popular destination for a relaxing day-trip for expats and tourists alike, with multiple companies offering the trip. Some boats leave from West End/West Bay and head all the way to the eastern tip of the island and then out to the cay. Others leave from locations farther east, which is what we opted for given our ability to drive there on our own schedule. We packed the cars with coolers of beer, snacks, and ice, grabbed some dive/snorkel gear, and drove off toward French Harbour. Nick had arranged for us to take a boat from French Key, cut through the mangroves at the eastern edge of Roatan in search of crocodiles, go for a dive/snorkel to hunt Lionfish, and then head to Pigeon Cay.

Here in the Caribbean, we currently have an infestation of Lionfish trying to destroy our beautiful reefs. Lionfish belong in the Pacific Ocean, not in the Caribbean. Due to an accident releasing many of them into the Caribbean about a decade ago, they have now spread throughout the region at a terrifying pace. They procreate often and quickly, they eat juvenile fish, and they have no natural predators in the Caribbean. All these factors combine to create a scary situation for the sustainability of our ecosystems. Therefore, Lionfish are the only fish that can be hunted and killed inside our otherwise protected marine park area in Roatan. We spearfish them, and divers have done an amazing job already eliminating the large numbers of Lionfish in the immediate area and lobbying for continued monitoring of their invasion. We scuba divers are rather protective of our reef life. As such, the killing and eating of Lionfish is strongly encouraged in Roatan!

Ocean Connections staff after a quick lionfish hunt - photo from the Roatan Marine Park

Ocean Connections staff after a quick lionfish hunt – photo from the Roatan Marine Park

Lionfish are yummy, let’s eat them!

So let’s all agree on something quickly: ceviche is incredibly underrated and should be given higher priority at restaurants highlighting seafood. Ceviche is delicious. Lionfish ceviche is phenomenal. To add to ceviche’s vibrant flavors and fun ability to be shared, it’s unbelievably easy to make. Its convenience alone earns it a position of dominance over most other seafood dishes.

This brings me back to my original point. While we’ve agreed that ceviche is delicious and easy to make, and that on top of that Lionfish are destructive and make for a tasty treat, the point of this article is a public service announcement.

So here’s your PSA: do NOT make ceviche on the beach.

I know, I know, ceviche should be made on the beach because it’s easy to make and easy to eat and easy to share and…and…it can also give you second- or third-degree burns. Trust me, I know first-hand.

So imagine this: you’re out on a beach with friends after a beautiful dive/snorkel during which a few of the divers killed more than 20 invasive Lionfish. They’re all in a bucket, just waiting to be filleted and diced to toss into yet another bucket, which is currently being filled with lime juice by yours truly. Cut the limes in half, give them several big squeezes, and watch the juice add up inside the bucket and all over your hands. Rinse your hands in the ocean when you’ve squeezed a sufficient amount of juice. Let that Lionfish soak in the tart flavors. Eat and enjoy!

Except here’s the ugly part: within about 24 hours, watch your hands begin to blister and turn a deep reddish-purple the likes of which scare and sicken you. At first we thought I got a bad sunburn on the hand that held a few beer cans while I waded in the water (just a few, Mom, I promise). It seemed legitimate, the burn was worst along my right thumb and index finger. We laughed a lot, took a few photos, and figured it would fade quickly.

We thought my burn was a bad sunburn from holding a beer can while out in the water. Thanks to Sarah for snapping a pic (while laughing hysterically)!

We thought my burn was a bad sunburn from holding a beer can while out in the water. Thanks to Sarah for snapping a pic (while laughing hysterically)!

But when the burn kept getting worse and the blisters started showing up, we knew it wasn’t your typical sunburn. After some quick research, we discovered I had Phytophotodermatitis. Break it down: phyto (plant-based), photo (light-based), dermatitis (skin disease). Citrus acid combined with UV rays will essentially result in a chemical burn. In this case that burn would be on my hands (and everywhere else the lovely lime juice decided to spray while I was squeezing it). Turns out not only citrus acid, but a variety of other plants combined with UV rays can cause these rash-burns, including parsley, celery, carrot, and fig. Other names for it include Lime Disease (not to be confused with tick-borne Lyme Disease) and Margarita Rash. Who knew?!

[No, I won’t be posting a photo of my nasty blistered hand because it was nasty and blistered. Gross. If you guys are that sick you can Google-image Phytophotodermatitis at your own risk. EEK!]

Fear not, dear readers, burns do heal. But they are less than ideal when you live in a sun-filled tropical paradise where every time you walk outside with second-degree burns you feel the singe begin again and anticipate steam arising from your skin at any moment.

Every story must have a happy ending though, right? At least that’s what Rom-Coms always tell me. So here’s the happy ending: Vitamin E. I learned this trick when I split my nose open in a high school soccer game and was left with a super-glued patch of scarred skin.

Lo and behold, Vitamin E capsules release pure Vitamin E gel, which effectively eliminates scarring. Thus, when applied repeatedly to my marred and ugly hands, the redness disappeared, the brown discoloration bleached away, and my good old normal skin shined through yet again. But I’ve certainly learned my lesson. No more making ceviche on the beach. I’ll leave it to the culinary experts at my favorite seafood restaurants whose hands are hidden from those vicious UV rays.

You want to know another fun lesson I learned? I adjust my bikini far too often while on the beach. I also had burn marks on the edges of both my top and bottom where my citrus-covered hands clearly couldn’t stop fidgeting to ensure I was fully covered. From now on I think I’ll just lay in the sand with a cold drink in hand and relax, sans second-degree burns.