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Dr Somchai and sample box jellyfish captured off Phuket

Phuket Jellyfish Alert: Governor to Decide

Friday, October 31, 2008
Look for Updates At Phuketwan Monday

Seven more slightly larger box jellyfish were found in stake traps at a sandy mangrove beach near Phuket City on Friday. Once they mature, where will they go? It's plain to Phuketwan that the marine biologists need help to speed the essential surveys and research. That should be done as fast as possible. Only with scientific knowledge about this menace can it be prevented from spreading. The marine biologists are underfunded and do not have the resources to drop everything and deal with this problem instantly. That's the bad news. The good news is that no other Phuket fishing communities so far have reported sightings of box jellyfish. But a lot more work needs to be done, and quickly. Help is essential. Plenty of resorts show interest in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Is that purely long-term, or can it meet more immediate needs? This is a very real biological crisis for the entire Phuket tourism industry.

AS PHUKET'S tourism high season opens, box jellyfish continue to be found off the island's east coast in substantial numbers.

The distribution of the only known treatment for the stings, common vinegar, is about to begin while marine biologists continue their investigation.

Governor Preecha Ruangjan is likely to decide how best to combat the box jellyfish menace after meeting on Monday with Dr Somchai Bussarawit, the chief of the museum and aquarium at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre.

It is also likely to be a topic at the new governor's first major media conference on Monday.

There is no sign so far of the deadly creatures on the island's popular west coast. Marine biologists believe conditions do not suit them there.

However, there is no certainty that the box jellyfish will not continue to turn up unexpectedly, if it expands its territory.

Territorial expansion seems to be a box jellyfish characteristic.

Virtually every time that researchers go on collection trips to Nam Bor Bay, about four kilometres from Phuket City, box jellyfish are found.

On Wednesday, three were caught in two small stake traps set by local fishermen. Yesterday, after heavy rain, there were 10 more in the traps at low tide.

Today, Dr Somchai Bussarawit intends to set out with a sample box jellyfish to survey fishing communities along the east coast.

Scientists don't yet know much about the jellyfish, first discovered off Phuket in July, including the scale of the infestation.

But if two small traps net the jellyfish regularly, it's probable that thousands more are in the water.

The captured jellyfish have all been immature, about the size of tennis balls. Fully grown, they are hand-sized with tentacles about a metre long.

Their life span lasts about one year.

Dr Somchai, just back from a visit to Indonesia, was today going to take a sample box jellyfish to show to fisherfolk in his survey.

About 240 bottles of vinegar, the only known treatment for a box jellyfish sting, have arrived at the centre, a gift from a Bangkok company. The bottles are destined for resorts and dive companies.

Dr Somchai said the identity of one of the two box jellyfish species has been confirmed by Australian researchers.

He was intending to send off samples of the second species today. This species has an eye and a single tentacle and can propel itself by swimming through the water.

The identified species has multiple tentacles at every corner of its box-like hood. A sting from a box jellyfish has the power to kill within minutes.

The death of a Swedish tourist off Koh Lanta in Krabi in April alerted authorities to the spread of the jellyfish to the Phang Nga Bay region.

After the fatality, Dr Peter Fenner of James Cook University told the Phuket marine biologists: ''Making the knowledge of this possible danger public will not detract in the long term from Thailand tourism, whereas ignoring it with subsequent deaths of tourists will.''

Essential Reading

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 the island's biological crisis.
Phuket Jellyfish Alert: The Biggest Test Yet?

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 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?


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