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Under scrutiny at the Phuket Aquarium, the box jellyfish

Phuket Box Jellyfish: Biologists Sound Public Alert

Thursday, October 23, 2008
Readers Comment Below

THE DIRECTOR of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, Vannakiat Thubthimsaeng, has alerted key tourism groups, media, hospitals, local authorities and the island's new Governor to the presence of potentially dangerous box jellyfish in the waters of the region.

His warning comes in a letter sent to a long list of people in high positions on the island.

It follows the death of a Swedish girl off Koh Lanta in April and two news reports this week by Phuketwan that disclosed the presence of box jellyfish in the sea off Phuket's east coast.

Box jellyfish have been found near at least one patch of mangroves not far from Phuket City.

Scientists do not believe there is a likelihood of an outbreak on the west coast, the location of Phuket's best-known tourist beaches.

In the letter, dated October 21, Khun Vannakiat recorded the death of the Swedish tourist off Koh Lanta, Krabi, on April 3 this year.

A second tourist suffered stings in the incident but survived.

''The Phuket Marine Biological Center sent a team to conduct research in the area between July 2-4 with a team of researchers and a doctor from the Epidemiology Investigation and Surveilance Section of the Ministry of Public Health,'' the letter says.

It goes on to warn fishermen, tourists and the public generally that box jellyfish have since been found in waters off Phuket.

Shrimp nets were cast off Koh Lanta and in two hours, researchers captured six box jellyfish.

On August 22, seven more box jellyfish were captured off Koh Lanta.

On July 27-30, box jellyfish were also encountered in mangrove stake traps at Nam Bor Bay, (on Phuket's east coast, between Phuket City and Cape Panwa.)

More were found in the same area between October 20-21, the letter said.

Can Phuket keep the box jellyfish at bay, not in the bay? Please tell us via the Comment box below


The jellyfish tended to live near mangrove forests in brackish water, Khun Vannakiat added. He said there had been no sightings on Phuket's west coast.

Phuketwan has been told that research is now being conducted in Australia, where box jellyfish are better-known, on the two distinct types of jellyfish found in Phuket and Krabi waters.

Release of the letter poses a challenge this week for two men at the top who are new to their positions.

The Governor of Phuket, Dr Preecha Roungjun, started his job on Monday.

On Saturday, the new director of the regional office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Settapan Puttanee, is due to arrive to take up his post.

Khun Settapan, who is transferring from his role as director in the TAT's New York office, has spent the past few months as a Buddhist monk.

Analysis

By Phuketwan editor Alan Morison
POLITICAL uncertainty in Bangkok, protestors in the streets, war with a neighboring country, an airport blockade, a state of emergency declaration, the possibility of an avian flu breakout . . .

All these things have loomed in 2008 as threats to tourism in Thailand, and especially Phuket.

Who would have dreamed that the biggest and potentially most serious threat of all would emerge from under the water, in the shape of the fearsome box jellyfish?

One of the great attractions of Phuket is that its waters are comparatively safe, particularly in high season.

The discovery of box jellyfish in the process of expanding territory poses serious concerns for the future.

A wider public warning and an alert system for further discoveries are both now essential. That will be the job of scientists and public health authorities.

Phuket's marine biologists have done the right thing in alerting the island and the region to the presence of two types of box jellyfish, which have the potential to kill or inflict painful wounds.

It would be a disgrace if people were stung, without a public alert being sounded.

The box jellyfish has proved to be highly adaptable. Marine science is now trying to catch up.

While researchers can tell us only a little about the two species now in the region's waters, we expect knowledge to improve rapidly with the combined help of local fisherfolk and Australian researchers.

Tracking the jellyfish, mapping jellyfish territory, defining its habits and studying its life cycle should now become urgent priorities for scientists.

In terms of what the public needs to be told, it's essential from here on that bulletins should be released whenever a new outbreak is discovered.

As well as warning everyone of the present danger, Thailand's public health authorities now have the vital, constant task of keeping residents and visitors alert to the latest developments.

Nobody wants to damage Phuket's tourism industry. We all hope these outbreaks will cease and that the jellyfish can be confined.

But from now on, informing and protecting all those who set out into the sea becomes a much, much more important task.

Essential Reading

Box Jellyfish Found Off Phuket: Death in Krabi
The death of a tourist off Krabi and the discovery of a non-fatal form of box jellyfish off Phuket bring a call for help - and a claim that many more deaths go unrecorded.
Box Jellyfish Found Off Phuket: Death in Krabi

Photo Album

Phuket Box Jellyfish: Are We In Danger?
Virtually every day now, numbers of box jellyfish are being found at a spot not far from Phuket City as marine biologists puzzle over their unexpected presence. Should we be alarmed?
Phuket Box Jellyfish: Are We In Danger?

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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That's a real pity, people die from contact with Box Jellyfish, and also not mentioned in your article is that Starfish have been found in their thousands in Phuket waters, and Starfish eat coral.
This is all new to Phuket, it has never happened before! Could it be related to the Ocean blasting in the Andaman Sea looking for oil reserves?
Editor:I'd say the oil-blasting theory is a little far-fetched. Many more possible explanations, but yet to be determined precisely . . . We did ask about the crown of thorns starfish and were told by a senior biologist that it is not the problem it is on the Great Barrier Reef. Box jellyfish, however, is another matter. I am sure we will hear as soon as the whole picture is known.

Posted by Tony on October 23, 2008 13:26

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The nightmare is, I guess, that nobody knows what the outcome might be. The jellyfish may retreat. Or they may decide they like the west coast beaches in high season . . . The only people who might like that idea are those with private-pool villas on sale, and even they are not really that cynical. It is a very alarming prospect. The local authorities, scientists and everybody concerned with tourism and property need to throw all their resources into preventing this nightmare from becoming reality.

Posted by angelfire on October 24, 2008 07:46

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Nightmare is the right word. Bear in mind, too, that marine biology and the local public health system are already stretched for funding to cope with existing problems. The people with investments in tourism and property here need to band together to provide help. It's plain that the coast needs to be properly surveyed to determine the extent of the box jellyfish and their likely spread. The biologists probably also need a liaison person to make sure everybody reacts as fast as is humanly possible. It cannot be left to chance. The diving industry may be able to help too, but dealing with a potential crisis as large as this one needs more than one or two volunteers putting their hands up. It requires instant and adequate attention, today not tomorrow. Where are the professional crisis managers? Phuket needs you now!

Posted by angelfire on October 24, 2008 08:27

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Now we know of the threat, we must be prepared to deal with potential stings - lifeguards and divers should have an absolute minimum of two liters of vinegar on hand for first aid to use if box jellyfish (serious marine sting) is indicated. If it is not a box jellyfish this will not do any harm.

Editor: There seems to be some debate about whether to treat box jelly stings with hot water or not, or ice. Can anybody out there comment with absolute certainty and know what they say is right? Someone, perhaps, from the box jellyfish zone of Australia?

Posted by Anonymous on October 24, 2008 13:57

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Vinegar works by inactivating the jellyfish stinging cells (called nematocysts), hot water or ice will NOT do this.The only benefit of ice would be to help with the pain caused by the sting however it is important to inactivate nematocysts before treating the pain.Victims can often go into Cardiac Arrest very quickly so it is also important that lifeguards and divers can perform CPR. Another effect of Box Jellyfish sting can be severe shock due to the intense pain, if this happens to a lone swimmer they could easily drown.
It is so important that lifesavers, divers and even tour guides running snorkeling trips get a proper education on first aid for Box Jellyfish sting now we know there is a risk.In Australia we are taught as children in school how to treat jellyfish sting and its probably not a bad Idea for the kids on Phuket either.

Editor: Many thanks. You're right about being prepared to treat stings . . . yet we hope the box jellyfish sting treatment never has to be used on Phuket. If the marine biologists get the right kind of support, that's still possible. Let's hope people who can help are reading this.

Posted by GlobalGypsy on October 25, 2008 12:24

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Could you please put a clear picture of a "box jellyfish" on your site. I'm a SCUBA diver and don't know how they "look". Thank you.

Posted by Anonymous on November 28, 2008 10:09


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