Click this link to transfer to a more up-to-date blog on the South-East Asian box jellyfish situation .. Includes Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines
Four and a half years ago my son was stung by a box jellyfish on a beautiful deserted beach on one of Thailand’s little jewels, Koh Mak. Expert medical and scientific opinion in Australia said that he should have been killed by massive envenomation; myself and his mother should have been grieving the loss of our little boy. Instead, he miraculously survived, we count our blessings, then a few months later a different family was gripped by the tragic death of their young daughter on Koh Lanta. Stung and killed by a box jellyfish while they were on holiday.
At the time, most denied the existence of box jellyfish. It’s all on record in online media and forums; ‘never seen a box jellyfish so they do not exist’, ‘never heard of them here’, ‘maybe must swim up from Australia and attack Thailand’ etc etc. Everyone was an ‘expert’. Few were right.
Thankfully, the real experts paid attention and now there is undisputed scientific and medical proof that lethal box jellyfish live in the waters of Thailand and throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Specifically where is still not clear. The experts have been trying to make changes, Thai officials have been actively doing the same even though they are hamstrung by lack of funds. A lot of effort has been made behind the scenes. It is a huge job. It moves very slowly, sometimes frustratingly so.
Koh Mak as reported here is a little island with a big attitude and its heart is in the right place. This is not to say that other islands do not care, though it is Koh Mak that is leading the way in Thailand with their response to box jellyfish stings, the concerns of visitors and government officials and the future of tourism on the island. Samui, Pha Ngan, Chang and Samet to name a few have done absolutely nothing – though marine biology centres in their regions have done some investigations and some private individuals particularly on Koh Samui have tried as best they can though have been drowned out by the stoney silence of the island’s decision makers. Phuket has to a certain degree demonstrated interest but, again, nothing has been done.
I have advocated the use of lycra body suits and vinegar on the beaches for over 4 years now and while many changes are occurring at an official level, little seemed to be changing on the frontline, on the beaches where the stings are happening and proper prevention and treatment is critical.
The deserted beaches of Koh Mak remain peaceful and tranquil but popping up around the swaying palms are red poles with a white cross that can and will save great pain and precious human life. These are vinegar stations. They stand in strategic, discreet positions providing easy access to vinegar in case of an emergency in a place where box jellyfish are known to inhabit.
Immediately pour the vinegar on any jellyfish sting (30 seconds) and save valuable time neutralising the stinging jellyfish tentacles – remembering that box jellyfish stings can kill in minutes. Dare I say, if these poles were around years ago, lives would have been saved.
It has taken a long time but this is a significant step in changing a mind-set, acknowledging that there is a problem and accepting that something practical must be done to provide all water users with a duty of care. The Australian experience demonstrates that visitors want to know what the risks are and are encouraged when made aware that their safety is being seriously considered, not compromised. It provides peace of mind so that they can enjoy themselves. We are surrounded by risks, it is the unknown that can be the most frightening, if we know we will be looked after in case something happens we feel empowered, at ease.
Koh Mak it seems is the first in Thailand and perhaps the entire region to install vinegar stations for the safety of their guests and locals alike. They also have a net as previously reported. The team at kohmak.com led by Khun Ball are to be congratulated for taking the initiative and being proactive in their pursuit of safety in a country where many could not care less, where many are only concerned about profit. Koh Mak is concerned about the future and with this approach will win the hearts and minds of holiday-makers seeking a degree of safety when in paradise.
Hopefully the rest of Thailand will follow this little leader sooner rather than later and a family somewhere will not have to go through hell losing a loved one before this initiative is embraced by the wider Thai tourism industry.
Following are photographs courtesy of kohmak.com that illustrate this wonderful effort:
Recently posted in ‘Box Jellyfish in Thailand and the Region’, the following piece highlights some of what is being done and what still needs to be done in Thailand to provide a safer environment for all water-users.
Early in 2010 we wrote in the blog ‘Big Test for Little Koh Mak’ that this small island south of Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand needed to stand tall and follow through on its commitment to its loyal visitors.
Koh Mak is taking the initiative in Thailand ahead of Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, Railay and other jellyfish hotspots to seriously consider the wellbeing of its guests and provide them with a form of protection that just may well save some lives in the busy Christmas/New Year holiday period.
The Ao Kao White Sand Beach Resort has rolled out a fishing net and adapted it to protect a large swimming space from jellyfish. The net appears solid and provides the resort’s guests and visitors with a sizeable area within which to enjoy the water. This is perfect particularly for children and will hopefully provide a good level of protection from stinging jellyfish including lethal box jellyfish that are known to live in these waters.
It is very important to acknowledge the value of such an initiative and pat the good people of Koh Mak on the back for doing such a terrific job in providing serious care for the visitors that love relaxing on its beaches and propping up its growing economy. Further serious stings on this island could potentially harm its development so being proactive is essential and Koh Mak has not been afraid to highlight the issue and demonstrate that it is prepared to change and improve to protect its guests and its reputation.
However, this is just the beginning, just the start! Jellyfish prevention nets operate in Australia and are specially engineered, designed, manufactured, operated and maintained to prevent jellyfish from entering during all weather conditions and all tide positions. These are ‘smart’ nets. Fishing nets will provide an element of good protection but it is difficult to see how big or deep this Koh Mak net extends. Box Jellyfish as explained in a previous blog can swim and see and can move around or under obstacles such as fishing nets. So while this net may prevent ‘floating’ jellyfish from entering it may not stop lethal Box Jellyfish.
Visitors to Koh Mak need to be reminded that this net at Ao Kao will provide them with some protection but for absolute safety and peace of mind the ONLY proven way of not being stung is to wear a full length lycra swimming suit.
Tourism and hospitality operators on Koh Mak need to be reminded that this net is a great start that must be improved upon if effective protection is to be offered. Vinegar must be made available on the beach – a good, obvious position is near the net so that it can be quickly accessed in case of an emergency. These photographs below show clearly just what works in Australia and what would work equally well in Thailand. Vinegar should be splashed on a sting for at least 30 seconds to ‘kill’ the stings and stop the flow of venom into the body. It is the venom that will kill a human in minutes – vinegar MUST be applied IMMEDIATELY!
Proper, permanent, effective signs need to be put up on the beaches. These signs should not be ‘scary’ and not made to turn people off from entering the water. The signs need to be to the point but can be subtle and a good idea might be to organise a competition on the island or beach among the local community and visitors (particularly the kids) to come up with a clever design. Take ownership of the issue, as Koh Mak is doing, and take it to the position it needs to go so that everyone is provided with the best prevention possible. Ao Kao’s sign above is done in fun colours and provides a good focal point for kids – they are certainly on the right track!
This sign at Koh Lanta is not in a good position to be seen by everyone and the image and words used on the sign do not fully convey the right message – BUT a sign is a sign and this is better than nothing!
The team at Koh Mak’s Ao Kao beach need to be congratulated for being proactive and wanting to take control of this problem to ensure their guests’ safety. Resorts, hotels, beaches, communities, tourism operators plus the tourist and hospitality industry authorities and government officials need to follow the lead made by little Koh Mak and make a big decision themselves to provide the best possible protection for all water users.
Box jellyfish numbers and that of other stinging jellyfish are only going to increase, tourist numbers will increase, action needs to be taken now to avoid any future tragedies. Koh Mak is listening, they are paying attention to their guests’ concerns and their own conscience, and they are acting – well done Koh Mak!
Tourists will certainly feel more safe and relaxed at Ao Kao beach on Koh Mak – as they should on every tourist beach around Thailand!
Thank-you ‘Box Jellyfish in Thailand the Region’ blog and Koh Mak Facebook page.
DO NOT USE VINEGAR ..
Dangerous jellyfish known commonly as Bluebottles or Portuguese man’o War have been washing up on Phuket’s beaches for the past week or so causing much consternation and fear among beach users and authorities.
The Bluebottles have also been causing much confusion among many people with some experts saying that vinegar should be used to treat a sting. The fact is that vinegar should NOT be used to treat a bluebottle sting.
Here is what to do if stung by a Bluebottle:
Until recently tropical and non-tropical Bluebottle stings were treated differently. The Australian Resuscitation Council’s latest guidelines recommend that vinegar NOT be used for any species of Bluebottle (Physalia physalis in Australia and Physalia utriculus in South-East Asia) whether in the tropics or temparate climate and the above procedure be strictly applied.
The deadly Chironex species of Box Jellyfish is the most likely culprit that caused a life-threatening sting to a British woman on a West Railay beach in June 2011.
The woman reported that she was swimming at around 6pm when she felt exruciating pain on her legs, arm and abdoman. With up to 4 tentacles still on her body, the woman emerged from the sea experiencing severe pain as though her entire body was on fire and she began hyperventilating. The sting was later deemed as ‘life-threatening’ and it was her controlled breathing and quick action that most likely saved her life.
There were no warning signs at the beach or resorts. No staff warned that there was the risk of a sting. The woman was helped to a nearby restaurant where a staff member suggested that she apply vinegar to the stings – no vinegar was available! This staff member told the woman that he often sees people stung yet even so nothing is made available or done to ensure that stings can be treated on the spot and lives potentially saved.
Last November a Spanish woman was severaly stung at the same place – it is presumed that many are stung but do not report so no official acknowledgement is made. The only reason this recent case is known is because the woman went to the trouble of reporting it. All stings should be reported. Contact either the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, Thailand Dept of Public Health (Bureau of Epidemiology) or the Marine Medic – all websites are listed in this blog profile.
The Chironex Box Jellyfish venom stops the will to breathe and it was the controlled breathing of this woman over a 2 hour period of intense pain and suffering that most likely kept her alive.
The woman has experienced prolonged nerve problems and loss of appetite since the sting. The scarring is severe at the moment but should heal well if properly treated.
With plenty of mangrove areas in around Krabi, Ao Nang and Railay beaches providing excellent habitat for Box Jellyfish, it is advised that all people swimming in or using the water in the region should carry their own vinegar and preferably wear a lycra suit.
The Chironex species of Box Jellyfish in potentially lethal whether it be in Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia or Australia.
In Australia Chironex fleckeri has a fearsome reputation and is responsible for deaths and serious stings all across the tropical northern coast. Its presence, unlike that of its Asian cousins, is seasonal though it is often sighted outside of the October to May range.
This blog with associated home video shows a 7 year old boy Osborne Kewe from Townsville in Australia who received a life-threatening box jellyfish sting. He is alive today only because a nurse on hand kept him alive with CPR while others knew to splash vinegar on his stings and NOT to remove the tentacles by scraping or rubbing or pulling which makes matters worse.