Ciguatera and the Gambiers and Snorkeling

Ciguatera is a kind of fish poisoning that most cruisers (or preppers) are aware of because it exists in the tropics. Most of the time it is an uncomfortable but relatively mild poisoning with lingering side effects. However, with high levels of toxicity in a single fish (or multiple exposures) it can be very serious and even deadly. The easiest way to avoid it is to avoid eating any reef fish, or fish that are major predators of reef fish (like barracuda). The risk exists and some people feel comfortable taking the risk with varying levels of precautions and some do not.

Contrary to popular belief, ciguatera isn’t caused by algae directly but by a handful of marine organisms that live on algae. The fish eat the algae and accidentally ingest the organisms which contain/produce ciguatoxin.
One of the organisms that produces ciguatoxin is …Gambierdiscus toxicus. Yep, that is correct GAMBIER, as in the Gambiers, as in the place we are right now. Gambierdiscus toxicus is a dinoflagellate (marine plankton) that lives on algae  and produces ciguatoxins.


You might correctly assume that there is a lot of ciguatera in the Gambiers. Most of the fish are ciguatoxic.

This is bad for hunting and gathering and great for snorkeling. It is impressive to see how many parrot fish exist when no one is eating them and how HUGE the groupers get when they aren’t being eaten. The brilliant colors of parrot fish in schools is one of my favorite things about snorkeling here.


  1. I thought that parrotfish were low enough on the food chain that they usually weren't ciguatoxic, but certainly trust local knowledge first. How very cool to get to be in a fishy wonderland... even if you can't eat as many! Just another challenge for spearfishing right?

    1. We have been told by locals (so, word of mouth knowledge/rumor) that the reason they only eat blue parrotfish (in some atolls) is that those parrotfish eat mostly shellfish and things other than the coral-algae-plankton combo. Is this true? I have no idea...but for sure locals in some Tuamotus have told us to avoid pink/etc parrotfish.

    2. Carol pointed out that the shellfish thing was marbled groupers NOT blue, now I have no idea!



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