Island Life PSA: Ceviche Burns


Here in the Caribbean, the waters around our rocks are being invaded (and no, I am not referring to tourists on cruise ships). An infestation of lionfish has taken over and is currently destroying our beautiful reefs. Lionfish belong in the Pacific Ocean, but due to an accident that released many of them into the Caribbean Sea 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 here. All of these factors combine to create a scary situation for the sustainability of our ecosystem.

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Therefore, as a Caribbean resident, I would like to officially invite each and every one of you to kill and eat as many lionfish as you possibly can while visiting our rocks! On Roatan, the local marine park even allows licensed divers and snorkelers to spearfish them. So of course, we like to take advantage of that opportunity and catch our own free food as often as we can.

First off, can we all agree on a few things before we proceed: 1) fish are tasty; 2) lionfish are destructive; and 3) ceviche is an incredibly underrated fish dish. So, basically, simple math would prove that lionfish ceviche is a phenomenal choice. I can attest to this. On top of ceviche’s vibrant flavors, it is also so much fun to share; plus, it’s unbelievably easy to make.


The only downside to ceviche? Making it – as I have learned through personal experience – can burn you.

Not possible, you say? Because ceviche isn’t cooked? How could you possibly burn yourself with raw fish, you ask?

The Answer: Making ceviche on the beach involves a combination of lime juice and sunshine. And, as I have discovered firsthand, citric acid plus UV rays equal second – or even third – degree burns.

So, imagine you’re out on the beach with friends after a beautiful SCUBA dive during which more than 20 invasive lionfish have been speared. They’re all in a bucket waiting to be filleted and diced to toss into yet another bucket, which is currently being filled with lime juice by yours truly. You 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, let that lionfish “cook” in the tart flavors, eat, and enjoy!

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Except here’s the catch… within about 24 hours, watch in horror as your hands begin to blister and turn a deep reddish-purple, the likes of which both frighten and sicken you. At first, you’ll try and comfort yourself that it’s just a bad sunburn from holding too many beer cans while wading in the water (just a few, Mom, I promise). This seems like a solid theory! But then the burn continues to worsen, and then the blisters appear. Definitely not a typical sunburn, your false consolations are no more.


After some quick research, we discovered that I had Phytophotodermatitis. Long word, allow me to break it down for you: phyto (plant-based), photo (light-based), dermatitis (skin disease). Apparently, citric acid combined with UV rays will essentially result in a chemical burn. In this particular case, the burn was all over my hands (and everywhere else that damn lime juice sprayed when I squeezed it). Turns out not only citrus fruits, but a variety of other plants combined with UV rays can cause these rash-burns, including – take note! -parsley, celery, carrot, and fig. Other names for it include Lime Disease (not to be confused with the tick-borne Lyme Disease) and Margarita Rash. Who knew?!


Fear not, dear readers – burns do heal. But I will say that they are less than ideal when you live in a sun-soaked tropical paradise where every time you step outside, you feel the searing pain come aflame again, feeling as though steam is about arise from your flesh at any moment.

Every story must have a happy ending though, right? At least that’s what rom-coms always taught me. So here’s the happy ending: Vitamin E. Vitamin E effectively eliminates scarring, and 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.


Alas, I have definitely 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 away in their kitchens, and thus safe from those vicious UV rays.

Oh! And another fun lesson I learned: I adjust my bikini far too often. I also had burn marks along the edges of where both my top and bottom swimsuit pieces lay, places where my citrus-covered hands clearly couldn’t stop fidgeting to ensure I was fully covered. From now on, I think I’ll just lie in the sand with a cold drink in hand and relax, sans second-degree burns.

Now don’t say I didn’t warn you – protect yourself, my friends. Ceviche burns!

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Amanda Walkins

About Amanda Walkins

Girl travels solo. Girl meets boy. Within a week, girl moves in with boy, adopts island dog, and decides to never go home. Her life is a cliché. But actually, Amanda is just like so many others who got sucked into the vortex of their respective rocks. Amanda’s current rock is Roatan, a little island off the east coast of Honduras. From brutal Boston winters to the frenetic pace of Washington, DC, Amanda just kept heading farther south in search of warmer climes and laid-back vibes. Now she spends her days balancing writing and socializing with the eclectic residents of Roatan. That beats the hell out of balancing in high heels on a moving metro train.

Amanda writes about her rock for tourists, current and potential expats, and, of course, for her own sanity at

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12 thoughts on “Island Life PSA: Ceviche Burns

  1. Sure does ! Worked at a beach bar and one day after squeezing a bunch of limes in tourists’ drinks I developed Limes. . . NOT fun people. . . lol. .. . not fun.. . . . by the way, aloe helps. So does Coconut oil. Although now, the latter makes me wonder if I am slowly turning myself into a beach French fry. . .

  2. Ay, yi, yi! Who knew? Phytophotodermatitis has just been added to my vocabulary. 😉

    Great article – we’re always happy to hear about folks on other rocks joining the battle against the invasive lionfish.

    I’d like to offer one correction and one additional warning. The lionfish invasion actually began in the mid ’80s – 30 years ago. There’s a great map at that documents the progress of the lionfish invasion since ’85 when the first sitings occurred off the coast of Florida.

    And as much as island dwellers need to be aware of the possibility of a ceviche burn, they also need to know that lionfish have 18 venomous spines that can deliver a most painful burn if they puncture your skin. There are 13 long venomous spines on their backs (called dorsal spines), one short one on the leading edge of each pectoral fin and three small ones in the anal fin (by the tail). So, please, handle the delicious nutritious lionfish with care. 😉

    • Definitely handle with care – great addition, Nancy! Those spines are no joke, so if you don’t know how to properly handle a lionfish (like me…), then have a pro do it. The swelling that comes from a lionfish sting is disturbing and gross.

  3. I have now learned something new. I live landlocked in Las Vegas. I don’t think Lion Fish are something to worry about in Lake Mead lol. We are however (if all goes as hoped) planning on moving to one of the warm weather countries. Now I know don’t mess with Lion Fish and most certainly don’t play with lime. 😉 Thank you for the great article :)))))

  4. Wow, learn something everyday! Had no idea about the limes, hmmm. I would love to try lionfish one day and I absolutely love any kind of ceviche. Nice post!

    • Lionfish ceviche comes very highly recommended, Barbara! Just don’t make it yourself on the beach 😉 Many restaurants in Roatan offer lionfish in different forms (ceviche and tacos being my favorites!) so I’m sure other islands are similar!

  5. OUCH! You sure you didn’t touch the fish prior to gutting etc? Unlucky-have done this too many times to recall without any problem. Here in the Turks and Caicos, we have a Lionfish cookbook solely dedicated to cooking these species.

    • I love the cookbook idea, Philippa! That’s great you’re all being so proactive as well. I always steer clear of lionfish until they’ve been filleted…it’s safe that way 😉

  6. Thank you Amanda for th e great article as usual.
    I’m moving to West Bay Roatan perminately on August 8th. Can you direct me to an expat group or person on your rock who can help me find th e quickest and cheapest way to establish permanent residency?
    Thank you, Bob Jones

    • Hi Bob! Congrats on the upcoming move! There are tons of active Facebook groups where expats can get insights from others on questions like residency, housing, events, etc. That’s probably the easiest way to get started before you even arrive on the island. Just do a quick search on Facebook for Roatan and you’ll see several pop up. You’ll want to make sure you bring all required documentation with you, so it’s best to ask ahead of time. Good luck!

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