Palytoxin is a toxin produced by species of Palythoa and Zoanthus soft corals (collectively called zoantharians), either as a defence mechanism or to assist them in capturing prey. Zoantharians are popular with marine reef aquarists as they are very colourful, commercially available, and often seen as a good ‘starter’ coral. Incidents involving palytoxin typically occur when the slime coating produced by zoantharians is exposed to air. Exposure to palytoxin may occur via the skin, eyes or by inhalation. Symptoms of palytoxin poisoning may include fever, cough, headache, difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, skin redness/rash, muscle pain, irritation of the eye, sensitivity to light, and conjunctivitis.
A number of incidents involving palytoxin from corals in home aquaria have been reported internationally. Generally, there is a lack of understanding of how palytoxin survives in the environment, however no reports have been found of individuals being re-exposed or ill again on re-entry to homes or premises where exposure has previously occurred. The risk of palytoxin exposure is likely to be greatest at the time of the production of the toxin and is expected to be lower in the following hours or days.
In 2018, HPS worked with the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) to produce detailed guidance for marine reef aquarists on how to prevent palytoxin poisoning. We have now produced recommended clean-up procedures following a suspected palytoxin incident.