Living with Wild Australia - Marine stingers can be deadly

April 21, 2006
Living with Wild Australia - Marine stingers can be deadly

Box jellyfish have been responsible for more than 60 deaths in Australia. They are present in the waters of Northern Australia from October until May.

There have been reports of box jellyfish as far south as Agnes Water, which is just north of Bundaberg, Qld. The Box jellyfish can have up to 15 tentacles up to 3m long.

They increase in numbers after local rain near river mouths and creek outlets. They are found in calm water on a rising tide.

Editor's note: please hold your cursor over the pictures to read the captions.

They are not common during rough weather, nor are they often found over coral, in deep water or over sea grass or weed beds. Their natural diet is small fish and crustaceans.

There are also smaller marine stingers that can cause Irukandji syndrome a range of unpleasant symptoms, including stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches and back pain.

Box jellyfish Chironex fleckeri Family - Chirodropidae feeds on shrimp courtesy Great Barrier Reef Marine Park AuthorityThese marine stingers don't leave big welts or cause the excruciatingly painful immediate sting associated with large box jellyfish.

Jellyfish causing Irukandji syndrome live mainly in tropical waters in far north Queensland but some have been found as far south as Bundaberg. These jellyfish may be present at any time of year.

Prevention is better than cure, so: observe warning signs; do not enter the water when beaches are closed due to marine stingers; at beaches where there are swimming enclosures, swim only within these nets; wear a stinger suit to minimise the risk of being stung while in the water.

First aid for marine stings

Don't rub the sting. Don't apply a pressure bandage.

Large box jellyfish Chironex fleckeri

Death can happen quickly, so act immediately! Call an ambulance. Flood the affected area with domestic vinegar. Do not use metholated spirits or alcohol. Vinegar neutralises any undischarged stinging cells. If you don't use vinegar, more venom is injected after the initial sting.

Keep the victim calm. Apply cold packs to the sting for local pain. Administer CPR if the victim stops breathing.

Do not swim alone. The pain of the box jellyfish sting is so great a lone swimmer is likely to go into shock and drown. Survival is unlikely without immediate treatment.

Box Jelly fish. The tentacles inflict lethal stings. Courtesy Great Barrier Reeef Marine Park AuthorityIrukandji jellyfish Carukia barnesi and other species causing Irukandji syndrome. Symptoms emerge about 30 minutes after the sting and include pain, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches and back pain.

Flood the affected area with vinegar. Keep the victim cool and calm and under close observation for at least 45 minutes. Seek immediate medical help if symptoms develop or persist.

The Irukandji Carukia barnesi has a 2cm bell. There is a single tentacle from 50mm to 500mm long hanging from the four corners of the bell. It is named in honor of Dr Jack Barnes, who in 1964 tested its power on himself to make sure he had identified the culprit. He used a jellyfish he caught by lying in the shallows off Cairns on himself, his son and a life saver. They all needed hospitalisation. The tiny jellyfish takes its name from the Irukandji who were an Aboriginal tribe from the Cairns area.

No definitive treatment is available for the Irukandji syndrome but recent research in Townsville has brought encouraging progress.

The first Irukandji jellyfish to be bred in captivity have been born in Townsville, Australia. Up to seven species of jellyfish found in northern Australia are thought to be responsible for the syndrome, but only one, Carukia barnesi, is a proven culprit.

Box jellyfish can have 15 tentacles up to 3m long. Courtesy Great Barrier Reef Marine Park AuthorityAccording to CRC Reef researcher Ms Lisa-ann Gershwin, from James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, being able to breed Carukia barnesi jellyfish is a giant step forward for Irukandji research. Specimens raised in captivity will be shared with researchers to develop anti-venom, study the jellyfish toxins for pharmaceutical benefits, and work on rapid diagnostic techniques for Irukandji stings.

One of the biggest obstacles to developing anti-venom has been the lack of a regular supply of specimens. Between 10,000 and 1,000,000 specimens will be needed to develop an anti-venom, but typical annual catches have yielded only 200 to 1,000 Irukandji jellyfish. A captive breeding program is the key to moving the research forward.

Bluebottle and other jellyfish stings

Stings from bluebottles and other small jellyfish which occur all along the Queensland coast are best treated with ice. Some people react more strongly to these stings, so urgent medical attention is sometimes needed.

Editors note: GoSeeAustralia thanks the Environmental Protection Agency (Qld) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for their help in compiling this feature. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which includes the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), is a department of the Queensland Government. The EPA strives to protect Queenslands natural and cultural heritage, promote sustainable use of its natural capital and ensure a clean environment.

Boaties urged to avoid being the catch of the day

Recreational and commercial fishermen are being urged to consult free zoning maps before heading out into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The Marine Park is divided into a number of zones, each representing a different level of conservation, protection and resource use.

Zoning maps outline what activities can occur in which locations. The maps show the relative location of zones and are based on coordinates (points of latitude and longitude) to help with navigation.

Green Zones are no-take areas where extractive activities like fishing or collecting are not allowed without written permission.

These zones protect the biodiversity within the Marine Park by protecting important breeding and nursery areas such as seagrass beds, mangrove communities, deepwater shoals and reefs.

Anyone can enter a Green Zone to anchor and participate in activities such as boating, swimming, snorkeling and sailing. Travelling through a Green Zone with fish on board is also allowed (it is only an offence to fish in a Green Zone).

Stowing fishing gear (such as rods) on board the boat or in rod holders with a hook still attached is allowed in a Green Zone, provided the fishing apparatus is out of the water.

Penalties up to a maximum of $220,000 for an individual and $1.1 million for a body corporate respectively, apply to Green Zone offences.

Fishing restrictions also apply to commercial and recreational fishermen in Yellow Zones including limited line fishing and limited crabbing. Boaties are encouraged to check zoning maps for more information.

Other zones include Preservation (Pink) Zones, Scientific Research (Orange) Zones, Buffer (Olive Green) Zones), Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone, Habitat Protection (Dark Blue) Zone and General Use (Light Blue) Zone.

All zones have some type of restriction and boaties should check zoning maps for more information before heading out.

Free zoning maps are available from local bait and tackle shops, marine centres, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Offices or by contacting the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority on
(07) 4750 0700.

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