An update is long overdue! A short bout of heat stroke put me out for a week and then I was working around the clock to produce a short video about a Cook Island resident who contracted fish poisoning.
Mataiti is far and away one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. He got fish poisoning in 2007 and has spent the last five years trying to recover. He was hospitalized for several months during which time he was comatose and then paralyzed when he awoke. He’s been re-learning to walk and talk—both of which are very difficult since there is no rehabilitation specialist or speech therapist on the island.
But while we did the interview he was joking around and laughing. For someone with a debilitating illness, I found this remarkable; he seems completely undaunted by his experience.
I met Mataiti after investigating ciguatera, a foodborne illness caused by eating certain reef fish whose flesh is contaminated with toxins originally produced by dinoflagellates, which live in tropical and subtropical waters.
These dinoflagellates adhere to coral, algae and seaweed, where they are eaten by herbivorous fish who in turn are eaten by larger carnivorous fish. In this way the toxins move up the foodchain and bioaccumulate.*
The toxin also bioaccumulates in humans, so that you might eat a contaminated fish and be fine. It might only be after eating several poisoned fish that you feel the effects since the toxins only become harmful after a certain dosage.
This short, three-minute video tells Mataiti’s story and how he’s learning to rebuild his once active life.
Note: I filmed this video with professional photographer and filmmaker Justin Bastien. This was completely a joint effort, so I owe a huge thanks to Justin. Special thanks to Pacific Divers for their underwater footage. Also this post was originally published on the Scientific American blog under the headline: “One illness threatens a Cook Islander’s way of life.”
* This definition of ciguatera is taken directly from the New Oxford American Dictionary.