Friday, August 20, 2010

Aussie's Note On Jellies

I received a very long note from Liz Pawsey which was sent to my email inbox about box jellyfishes in Cairns, Australia. The google blogger couldn't store her writings in the comments box because they were too large to be processed. 

What were her thoughts?

My husband and I have just moved to the island from Cairns in Far North Queensland, Australia. People there have lived (and some have died in agony) with jellyfish for thousands of years; in fact most are identified by names given by the indigenous Aborigines. The Box jelly is in fact classed as the lowest threat on the Dangerous List as steps can be taken to minimise contact.I am not trying to trivialise the problem here, but to let you know that there are further experts to discuss the problem with and, more importantly in the short term, strategies to keep people safe.

Now, I am NOT an expert but regarding the Box Jelly I can help with some advice. Firstly, the information above regarding the vinegar is absolutely 100% correct.

Firstly, as a warning and as a means of instant first aid, beaches in Queensland where the jellies are a problem have poles with signs regarding the danger and a solution to a sting. Bottles of vinegar are kept at these stations which are generally situated at the entrance to the beach itself.

Secondly, fishermen who are frequently in and out of the water will wear pantyhose. The slight barrier of the nylon is sufficient to stop the tentacle barbs connecting with the skin. Unfortunately, pantyhose do get holes in them so this is a poor long term solution. The primary solution is the wearing of 'Stinger Suits'. Males/females Adults/children in areas with dangerous jellies have zippered full body suits made from Lycra.I believe I have seen them here on Langkawi worn by Muslim women. I have absolutely no idea and am totally ignorant whether this would be a cultural problem for Muslim fishermen. BUT, they work and hubby and I have brought both of ours with us.

All the tour boats have suits available for their guests which have the added benefit of reducing sunburn to fair European skins. Means tourists can continue to spend their money at attractions instead of staying in their rooms recovering! You will also see fishermen with the top part of their suits hanging around their waists when only the lower part of their body is in the water. Keeps them safe and cooler.

Thirdly, much research has been already been conducted by academic staff attached to James Cook University (Cairns Campus,) on breeding and distribution of jellies. They have discovered that they breed within the mangroves that grow in tropical climates. But, removing mangroves is not the solutions as they are also the nursery essential for many marine animals. Remove mangroves and you lose your fish stock.

However, the insight of knowing where they breed also allowed us to learn why they were more prevalent at certain times of the year. Queensland only has large numbers of the dangerous jellies after the monsoonal rains have flushed the river systems and they have been washed into the ocean.

Although the jellies have a little control over their movements, they are subject to currents and on-shore winds. ie they will only be close to the beaches under certain conditions. One means of ensuring safety for tourists, is that many resorts/motels and local government bodies install 'Stinger Nets' at the popular beaches. Not to catch the jellies but for people to swim in safely. There is of course going to be some cost in installing these barricades but when the economy depends upon tourism, it is a small price to pay. The advantage Langkawi has, is that these already exist and can easily be copied, to be made locally at a much less cost than those in already in Australia.

Finally, I strongly recommend that contact be made with researchers who have already much knowledge to assist in combating this problem. http://www.jcu.edu.au/mtb/staff/academic/index.htm

I hope this is of some assistance.
Liz

6 comments:

  1. Hi Liz;
    Thank you for your time to write and sharing with us about box jellies in Cairns.

    Interesting to know that dangerous jellyfishes breed in the mangroves. Yes, I agree with you. Would rather to have the jellies than to remove the mangroves. It has been reported that about 124 species of fishes are predators to the jellyfishes (Pauly, et al, 2009). And who knows, some of these 124 species need the mangroves as breeding ground. And who knows that these predators may be under threat by overfishing. The Fisheries Department and the Marine department are not strict enough in their enforcement, unfortunately.

    Osman and LADA are getting help from our local university researchers. They were here last week.

    Though LADA is looking into this matter seriously, however, one party is not sufficient. They need other government agencies to take action seriously as well, such as MPBL (Langkawi City Council), Fisheries Department and the Marine. You see, the city council is the one should ensure all resorts along the Cenang beach to put warning signs.

    Like what you suggested, all tourists riding on the banana boat should wear Lycra suits heh?

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  2. My husband reminded me after writing about the Box Jellyfish of another jellyfish problem that remained undetected for many years. In North Queensland we also have a very tiny jellyfish called Irikandji named after one of the local Aboriginal tribes. I doubt that this particular nasty is in these waters but there is a possibility of something similar and it may factor into the problem Langkawi is now experiencing.

    For many years, the Box Jelly was the main culprit cited for all incidents involving stings and/or deaths. There have been a significant number of tourists dieing whilst snorkling in Far North Queensland and some of these may have been caused by the Irikandji. Due to the earlier lack of information on this jellyfish, natural causes (heart attack) was often cited by the coroner as the reason for death. However, when the tiny Irikandji was finally studied, they found that it was a far deadlier & much more venomous than the Box Jelly and far, far, harder to see, catch or study. It was only in 2002 that 2 deaths were directly linked to the Irkandji and studies were begun. The actual sting is quite mild and can be easily disregarded or ignored. However, 30 minutes later, the venom will cause excruciating pain, hypertension, increased blood pressure & heart rate and has caused victims to have massive heart seisures that resulted in death. This is now called Irikandji Syndrom.

    My husband as a Rescue Helicopter pilot witnessed many victims when they were called in to medivac people to hospital that had been stung by either one or the other of these jelly fish. Hands down, the Irikandji was by far the worst of the nastys; causing significantly more pain and the possible need for life support enroute to hospital. There were several instances where rescue was too late as the victim had already died.

    The thing is, with the jellyfish problem on Langkawi and elsewhere in Malaysia, it may not just be the Box Jellyfish but one or more other species contributing to this deadly threat to life and an economy based on tourism.

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  5. Had a god laugh at the comment about tourists in Lycra on the banana boat. Imagine, Quick Silver operating out of Cairns carrying several hundred tourists (in all shapes & sizes) all wearing blue and black Lycra. Looked a little like a Telly Tubby convention.

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  6. Good summary goentroppo...firstly, Irukandji ARE at Langkawi and anyone can visit the local hospital and ask (they may not give) for details as to how many serious stings occurred recently - I understand July was very bad and typical Irukandji Syndrome symptoms traumatized dozens and dozens of victims. Your info on box jellyfish was very helpful though one must be careful to not apply the Australian model to closely here due to different conditions, latitude etc and research MUST be performed to draw any conclusions as to ecology, habitat, diversity, taxonomny etc. Also, stinger nets are effective in tropical north Australia but may not be at Langkawi - there are engineering design, tidal and other issues to explore first..and yes they are expensive. The basics at this stage are prevention (lycra suits, warnings), treatment (vinegar, hospital knowledge), research (local marine biologists). Thanks.

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