Marine-aquarium hobbyists are often urged to wear protective gloves when working in their tanks. Depending on the level of protection desired, these can range anywhere from disposable (powder-free) latex surgical gloves to heavy-duty, full-arm gloves that keep your entire arm dry and protected right up to the shoulder.
But let’s face it, most of us tend to be rather blasé when it comes to this practice—myself included if I’m being perfectly honest. Sometimes I’m diligent about wearing gloves, but then there are those occasions when it just seems so much easier to plunge in a bare hand to clean or adjust something in the tank.
Despite my lackadaisical approach, there are several good reasons we should be wearing gloves every time we put our hands in our systems. Here are five of them:
#1 Keeping bacteria and toxins at bay
We like to think of our saltwater systems as pristine slices of ocean, but in fact, they can contain harmful microorganisms that you don’t want on your bare skin, especially if you have a cut, nick, or scrape. In fact, some forms of bacteria that can be present in aquariums (e.g., Mycobacterium marinum) can cause very serious, difficult-to-treat infections in humans. While such infections are not especially common among hobbyists, they can and do occur.
Also, if you read our recent post about zoanthids, you know these polyps can contain a very dangerous neurotoxin called palytoxin. If you have zoas in your system, it’s absolutely essential to wear gloves when working with or around them.
#2 Excluding contaminants
Wearing gloves offers a two-way street of protection. Just as gloves keep pathogens and toxins that originate in the system off your skin, they also help protect the aquarium inhabitants from contaminants that might be on your hands—for example, residue from soap, lotion, cologne/perfume, etc.
#3 Preventing a plethora of pokes
From the sharp edges of rocks, to jagged coral skeletons, to those needle-like vermetid snails that pop up everywhere, puncture-wound risks are rife in marine aquariums—especially reef and FOWLR systems. Reaching into a tight crevice or behind the rockwork with unprotected hands can yield a nasty, painful injury that is prone to infection. Heavy-duty gloves help mitigate this risk.
#4 Protecting against things that sting or bite
Gloves also offer protection against pokes and puncture wounds that are inflicted, whether passively or purposefully, by stinging or biting organisms. For instance, I’ve ended up with a painful, swollen finger on more than one occasion after accidentally brushing against a bristleworm in my reef system. (You’d think I would have gotten the message after the first experience, wouldn’t you?) There are other potentially dangerous live rock stowaways, such as mantis shrimp, that can inflict wounds as well.
Of course, plenty of fish are equipped with dentition or spines that can administer a nasty, painful (and in some cases venomous) sting or bite to unwary aquarists’ hands—lionfishes, rabbitfishes, triggerfishes, moray eels, puffers, and many surgeonfishes, to name a few.
#5 Avoiding allergic reactions
Many people are sensitive to coral stings to varying degrees and can experience reactions ranging anywhere from mild dermatitis to a severe allergic response. Wearing protective gloves when working in a reef system will help you avoid finding out the hard way whether—or to what degree—you may be sensitive.
What’s your level of protection?
So, fellow salties, are you committed glove wearers, part-time hand protectors, or confirmed skinny dippers (your hands, that is)? Let us know how you feel about glove use in the comments section below.