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Andrew Jones, Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin, Kim Moss of Uninet and Dr Somchai

Amateur Sleuths Join Phuket Jellyfish Quest

Sunday, April 5, 2009
Phuketwan on the jellyfish safety seminar

FOUR DAYS of intense talk about jellyfish on Phuket concluded this weekend, almost 12 months to the day after the stinging death of 11-year-old Moa Bergman.

Australian participant Andrew Jones gave about 60 people in the public segment of the talks a dramatic account of the experience when his son Lewis was stung, about three months before Moa.

As luck would have it, the chef at the resort near the beach where Lewis was screaming in pain applied vinegar to his stings.

Last week, Lewis celebrated his sixth birthday. For Moa, the massive dose of venom from the world's most lethal creature proved too much.

As a result of the stinging of Lewis and Moa, Andrew Jones became an activist for awareness about dangerous jellyfish in Thailand. He deserves much of the credit for the public campaign that is now underway.

The success of the campaign can be measured by the interest of the 60 representatives of resorts, boating and lifesaving groups, dive organisations and consular officials who turned up at Le Meridien Phuket to hear about jellyfish.

Now people know what they are looking for, and how best to react if someone is unfortunate enough to be stung by a box jellyfish or the much smaller and rarer Irukandjis.

While the full extent of stings from dangerous jellyfish in Thailand remains unclear (''I am aware of plenty more,'' Mr Jones says), the latest campaign should energise officials at all levels to deal with future encounters.

There is no way of knowing yet whether Thailand's species of dangerous jellyfish will have similar habits and behave in much the same ways as their Australian equivalents.

Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin, whose expertise lies in identifying and classifying jellyfish, provided participants with details about the behavior of ''boxies'' and Irukandjis.

Perhaps the most important point of all: common household vinegar remains the only treatment for reducing the toxicity of jellyfish stings.

The idea is to treat the toxicity, even though the patient may be in immense pain.

''Lots of things that stop the pain make the venom worse,'' she said.

Application of alcohol-based products cause the injection of more venom. So does fresh water. So does sand.

The millions of microscopic venomous cells are simply driven into the wound.

Anyone stung by a box jellyfish has seconds to be treated. Death can come in as little as two minutes.

Keep some vinegar handy.

While Phuket's popular western beaches are considered unlikely to become home to box jellyfish, more research needs to be done on habitats and life cycles.

Continued investigations by Dr Somchai Bussarawit, Chief of the Museum and Aquarium at the Phuket Marine Biology Centre, and information provided by a growing army of amateur sleuths is likely to eventually fill the gaps.

Andrew Jones wanted to make sure people in Thailand are warned about what might be in the water, and to save other parents from the horror of a stinging.

After his trip to Phuket this week, those objectives are much closer to being achieved.

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Comments

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Every time I've gone in the ocean at Bang Tao or Surin beaches this season, I've been stung by tiny jellyfish - sea lice we call them back home. Can't stay in the water more than a few minutes and got a dozen stings that leave red marks that don't go away. I would guess the water is getting warmer, or the salinity is changing and more jellyfish will be the norm, yet another detrimental factor in the decline of tourism in Phuket.

Posted by Kim on April 6, 2009 11:00

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Just come back from a week end in Phuket. I've been to the beach in Patong with my son 5 yr old. Feel itchy in the water all the time everywhere. My son has rashes on all his body and particularly his buttock is horrible. He suffers a lot.Thai ppl told me it was jelly fish. We are usual to go to Phuket but there he told me he doesn't to go anymore.

Posted by peter on April 6, 2009 15:02

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Without causing too much alarm here, just be aware that vinegar is not the cure all and end all for box jelly fish stings. While it may work in most of the cases, in my case it made no difference at all, white vinegar nor brown vinegar. I am a healthy adult male and the pain was excruciating. The pain for a child will overwhelm them.
Just be aware that the sea holds some nasties in it and be on the lookout ok ?
Happy swimming, it is not the norm here to have jellies in the surf line or closer to the beach.

Editor: My understanding is that vinegar does nothing for the pain. But it does combat the toxicity, which is what will kill you if the box jellyfish sting is severe enough. So far, there have been no expert concerns about encountering them on Phuket's west coast beaches.

Posted by Been there, done that on July 18, 2009 12:35


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