Tourism News

Tourism News Phuketwan Tourism News
facebook recommendations


Sign up now for our News Alert emails and the latest breaking news plus new features.

Click to subscribe

Existing subscribers can unsubscribe here


Young box jellyfish are growing larger at Nam Bor Bay

Phuket Jellyfish Alert: Expert Flying In, Seminar

Monday, November 17, 2008
AN AUSTRALIAN expert is being flown to Thailand to speed research into the deadly box jellyfish, and a seminar has been organised for Bangkok next month.

Accurate information about box jellyfish and other marine stingers in Thailand is now being compiled. To a certain extent, it is a race against time.

Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin, Senior Advisor, Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services, is planning to fly to Phuket courtesy of budget airline Jetstar around December 15.

The public seminar in Bangkok, organised by the Bureau of Epidemiology, has been scheduled for December 18 and is expected to draw interest from resorts around the Andaman and the Gulf of Thailand.

Researchers are still catching and collecting dangerous box jellyfish virtually every time they check stake nets in the shallow water at Nam Bor Bay, between Phuket City and Cape Panwa, on the island's east coast.

Dr Somchai Bussarawit, the chief of the museum and aquarium at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, said that he collected another 10 specimens yesterday.

The immature jellyfish, tennis ball-size when Phuketwan went hunting with researchers just a few weeks ago, are growing larger.

Marine biologists are trying to determine as rapidly as possible what their behaviour will be once they are full-grown.

A key issue is whether the jellyfish have always been there and have only recently been discovered, or whether they have migrated from another part of Thailand.

The apparent death of a young Swedish tourist from a box jellyfish sting in April first alerted officials to the presence of ''boxies'' in the Phang Nga Bay-Phuket region.

There is no indication of the presence of box jellyfish at any other sites on Phuket. Marine biologists say there are no signs of box jellyfish on the island's popular west coast beaches and they are unlikely to appear in Andaman Sea waters.

Dr Somchai hopes to begin a broad survey of Phuket fishing communities on Phuket later this week, taking with him samples of box jellyfish to show to fisherfolk.

The Governor, Preecha Ruangjan, has made the point that there is no cause for alarm, yet welcomed the distribution of vinegar, the only recognised treatment for box jellyfish stings, as a precaution.

Tourists to Phuket should not be too concerned. Jellyfish are found in most waters of the world.

A warning sign has been placed on the beach in Koh Lanta where the Swedish girl was fatally stung and appropriate action can be expected if scientists determine there are risks elsewhere.

While swimmers and divers in some parts of northern Australia are well advised to take precautions, there are many completely safe beaches further south, just like the ones on Phuket's west coast.

The Bangkok seminar is being organised by the Bureau of Epidemiology, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health.

Dr Gershwin responded by email recently to the concerns of a would-be tourist from Europe, in an exchange that probably accurately reflects the concerns of many.

Here is the exchange. We have omitted the surname of the correspondent:

Dear Dr Gershwin

Last week we received the news in Switzerland that a deadly box jellyfish was found in the ocean around Phi Phi and Krabi in Thailand. Somebody even died there this year.

Since we are planning a trip to Phuket in January for scuba diving and kite surfing, we wonder how big the chances are that this deadly animal will move to the west side of Phuket in the next months.

Is it possible to make a statement to this question? Because if chances are that Phuket will be a destination too dangerous in January, we'll head for another place instead. Thank you for your response.

Best regards,

Dear Harald,

I understand your concern, and may I just say that I applaud you for taking the steps to find out additional information. It is great when people are pro-active about their safety.

The risk in Thailand is real, but please understand that a similar risk exists throughout the tropics and subtropics of the world. Box jellyfish are common throughout the world's tropics, particularly in the warmer months, but may be found any time of year.

For example, in the past year, we have had large blooms of box jellyfish in the Carolinas (USA), Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and Australia, as well as ''the other box jellyfish (Irukandji)'' also swarming in Hawaii and the Caribbean - and these are just the reports that have been received by our ''network.''

What I am trying to say is that they occur even if not reported. In fact, box jellyfish (of the Irukandji-type) have been confirmed from as far north as North Wales in the UK, and as far south as Cape Town (South Africa). The risk is there (and has been for as long as anyone has been keeping track), but is fairly low compared to the number of people in the water, because if a high percentage of swimmers and fishers and divers were stung, it would be hard to hide.

For example, in Australia, where data is quite accurate, there is an average of one fatality every three to four years, and approximately 100 stings per year requiring hospitalisation, with well over eight million people in the water in the tropical north each year.

However, I don't want to give you a false sense of security. The risk of being stung is very low in comparison to the number of people swimming; however, if stung, the drama is fairly high and yes, they can be deadly.

You have a much higher chance of getting hurt in a car accident on the way to the beach than stung by a life threatening jellyfish at the beach - however, either will ruin your holiday if it happens to you or a loved one.

My recommendation would be to go and have your dream vacation, but do some commonsense things to protect you from jellyfish (which are good to do anywhere in the tropics, not just Thailand).

That way, you not only ARE safer, but your anxiety is low and you are more likely to enjoy your holiday in a carefree way:

Ask the dive operators and hotel operators if there have been jellyfish stings lately in the area - if you feel that you are getting an uninformed answer, ask someone else, for example, the local hospital or police, or the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (Dr Somchai at the centre is heading the research into box jellyfish), or the Divers Alert Network, or the local newspaper. Keep in mind that sometimes operators simply are not informed of what happens with other operators, so it never hurts to ask health or scientific professionals who may be in a better position to know.

Wear protective clothing when you are in the water. In Australia, we recommend full-body lycra suits, the type that you can get in the US as a ''dive skin'' to wear under a wetsuit. But even pantyhose work very well: a lot of people in Australia wear one pair in the normal way, and a second pair over the arms with a hole cut in the crotch for the head. The most important parts to keep covered are the legs, body and arms; with these covered, it is extremely difficult to get a lethal sting.

For the parts of the face not covered by the mask and hood, you can rub a thick layer of petroleum jelly to act as a bit of a barrier between you and the jellyfish - it works well, but for obvious reasons, is not practical for the whole body.

Don't rely on jellyfish repellent or home remedies - jellyfish stings work on a hair trigger mechanism - you need an actual barrier between you and the jellyfish, but it only needs to be a minimum of 1/10 mm thick.

If you see a lot of ''jelly buttons'' washed up at the tideline, or if you see or feel a lot of ''sea lice'' or ''gelatinous plankton'' in the water, there is a much greater risk of Irukandji-type box jellyfish stings - these only occur a day or two a year in any one location, so your chances of seeing it are very slim - but if so, make it a shopping day and try again tomorrow.

It would be very sad to not go to beautiful Thailand for fear of the jellyfish, and instead to go somewhere with a jellyfish problem where they simply don't have the awareness. Most of all, have a fabulous holiday! (Do you need anyone to carry your luggage?)



Phuketwan hopes to be able to provide details of a contact for the public seminar in Bangkok shortly. We will update the information as soon as we learn more.

Essential Reading

Phuket Alert: Expert Guide to Jellyfish
The box jellyfish found in a Phuket bay have probably always been here, says an expert. She shatters some of the myths and offers hope for safety programs to prevent deaths and injuries.
Phuket Alert: Expert Guide to Jellyfish

Phuket Jellyfish Alert: No Cause For Panic
The Governor of Phuket hears a briefing on the Phuket box jellyfish alert and suggests continuing research, alerting people to the dangers and the treatment of stings, and avoiding panic
Phuket Box Jellyfish:'No Cause For Panic'

Phuket Jellyfish Alert: Governor To Decide
Box Jellyfish continue to be taken from waters close to Phuket City, with distribution of the vinegar that can treat stings about to begin. The governor is to meet a leading marine centre researcher on Monday.
Phuket Jellyfish Alert: Governor To Decide

Phuket Box Jellyfish: Biologist Sounds Alert
Phuket's Marine Biological Centre has issued an alert over the presence of box jellyfish in waters off Krabi and Phuket. Scientists are continuing to try to define more clearly the dangers, without unnecessary alarm.
Phuket Box Jellyfish: Biologist Sounds Alert

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 Albums

Phuket Jellyfish Alert: The Biggest Test Yet?
'Sun, surf, sand ... but deadly jellyfish cast shadow on Phuket. An infestation of sea creatures sparks fears for the future of tourism.' Hong Kong readers learn about Phuket's biological crisis.
Phuket Jellyfish Alert: The Biggest Test Yet?

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 have been disabled for this article.


Much better balanced article. Thanks

Posted by stuart on November 17, 2008 12:44

Monday May 20, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


Facebook Twitter