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Dr Somchai with lifeguard and deadly Chironex on Queensland's coast

On Phuket Beaches, 'Tis the Season to be Jelly

Thursday, December 31, 2009
A DEBATE about a commercial jellyfish sting lotion comes as a timely reminder that Andaman coast swimmers share the water with potentially harmful creatures.

And it's not just a problem for Phuket, or Thailand, or South-East Asia. The Mediterranean Sea is reported to be degrading so fast that it has become a ''scary laboratory of ocean futures.''

Elsewhere, giant sumo jellyfish almost two metres across and weighing 270 kilos are troubling fishermen off Japan.

Even people who seem to take adequate precautions in the water do not always succeed, as with the diver in a protective suit who reportedly plunged head first into the tentacles of a Irukandji in November off northern Australia.

Intensive care treatment was not his aim, but he ended up in hospital.

In this part of the world, a plague of non-dangerous jellyfish on Patong and other popular Phuket beaches in January 2009 followed the discovery of small box jellyfish in an east coast bay.

Increasing concern about jellyfish appears to have been the trigger for release of ''SAFESEA Sunscreen With Jellyfish Protection,'' a lotion that the Thailand dealer says he now wears himself when snorkelling.

Steffen Kochan of OceanLine is based on Phuket, where he has lived for 14 years. He says the lotion has been available in America, Europe and some Asian countries for some time, and passed on to Phuketwan the views of the lotion's inventor, Dr Lotan, who has faith in the product.

However, several Australian experts and advocates have jointly signed a statement criticising some of the claims made about the lotion, pointing out that it has not been tested on Thailand's deadly Chironex-type box jellyfish.

The Chironex is blamed for the death of a Swedish girl on Koh Lanta in Krabi in 2008, an event that intensified concern about jellyfish in the Andaman region.

Mr Kochan accepts that the use of a photograph of a Chironex sting victim's wound to promote the lotion was misleading. He also says that reaction from resorts and other outlets to the lotion has been mixed.

Some are happy to sell it, others prefer not to. The experts and advocates in Australia, who have seen first-hand the effects of the box jellyfish or studied its toxicity, are alarmed at the sale of the lotion.

It's a continuing debate and there are arguments for and against.

Mr Kochan is certainly right when he says that people on Phuket are not yet ready to don protective suits, and so the lotion provides some with perhaps a suitable compromise.

He says it's a ''safety belt,'' implying that you may be better off with it than without it in any serious encounter. The experts remain doubtful and concerned.

As Phuketwan is not in a position to take sides one way or the other, all we can add is that the debate is a healthy sign of concern on both sides for public safety, but from diametrically opposed perspectives.

Dr Somchai Bussarawit, of Phuket's Marine Biology Centre, is doing research until January 8 on jellyfish on the Queensland coast of Australia. Deadly jellyfish, like the Chironex in the photo above, are so prevalent there that people wear protective suits as a matter of course.

With Phuket's jellyfish season just beginning, the hope is that the need for protection of any kind does not become apparent, and that the jellyfish do not ''invade'' in numbers this year.

But if they do come, individuals remain free to choose what level of risk to take. Those who want to avoid the risk entirely won't swim.

If the jellyfish do arrive, we hope they are not a dangerous variety . . . . or the size of Japan's sumo monsters.

* The headline above was stolen from Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin. Her advice is to keep vinegar handy at all times. It's the only known treatment for jellyfish stings.
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Latest One year on from a fatal stinging, experts and interested groups are meeting on Phuket to accurately determine the scale and growth of the jellyfish menace.
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Patong Jellyfish: Other Beaches Plagued, Too
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Phuket Box Jellyfish: Biologists Sound Public 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.
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Comments

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Great that Phuketwan is on this issue and stays with it. This creme seams to be a pretty heavy thing to put on your skin. Just read how it allegedly works.
1. Slippery texture, so the jelly cannot contact. The jelly!
2. Absorbing skin secretion. Your suncream keeps your sweat from swimming away...
3. Chemical stoppers. Some Betablockers (?) against the nerve system of the jelly.
4. Reduce pressure on stinging triggers. Guess the same as no.1, the slippery consistency should help to keep the pressure on the trigger as low as the surrounding water. Must feel creepy.

And all of that is made waterproof and lasting on your body skin. Hopefully their nano particles and chemicals do no harm you inside your body in the long run. The skin, the biggest organ, does not forget.

Anyway: the thing with the vinegar is the best tip!

When you go to the beach or do a trip in Phang Nga Bay or else, take a little bottle of vinegar with you. Do not expect other people to take care of this.

For myself it is clear, I do not wage chemical warfare against the fish and jellies and of course not against my skin. Better wear a T-Shirt and a long body swimsuit. And always check the water and the beach before you go in. When you see one jelly, the chances of some of his friends being around also is good.

If you want to check the kind of jellies, for e.g. look here: http://dockwatch.disl.org/glossary.htm

Posted by Lena on December 31, 2009 21:37

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The jellyfish protecting lotion is working great. The lotion also has UV-protection for the sun. This way you get a 2 in 1 solution.

The lotion will
1) Considerable increase the time before you get stung and
2) It will reduce the number of (nematocyst) stinging cells to fire.
3) The lotion will therefore give you considerable less pain and redness in the skin.

But be smart and use UV-protective clothing, and use cream on the areas that are not covered.

In several studies there is a significant difference in the protection level compared to the placebo lotion used in the studies:

Wulff C, Haeberlein S & Haas W (2007). Cream formulations protecting against cercarial dermatitis by Trichobilharzia. Parasitol Res 101:91????????????????97

Boulware DR (2006). A randomized, controlled field trial for the prevention of jellyfish stings with a topical sting inhibitor. 13: 166-171.

Kimball AB (2004). Efficacy of a jellyfish sting inhibitor in preventing jellyfish stings in normal volunteers. Wilderness Environ Med 2:102-8.

Posted by Torgrim on January 2, 2010 21:52

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Thanks Phuketwan for this information. I am unwilling to trust the safety of my family to a product that its salespeople label "misleading". Covering up is the best solution - to protect from UV as much as jellyfish. And agree with Lena - having vinegar handy is ideal. Knowing how to perform cpr is also important. Hope we see lots of initiatives in bringing cpr to the public in 2010.

Posted by risky on January 3, 2010 10:55

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My family and I are using Safe Sea for many years. We never got stung. I would not go for a swim at the beach without it. We always bought it through the Internet or had friends bring it to Thailand from Europe. It is good to know that we can get it here now.

About the comment with wearing a T-shirt:
this is very dangerous! Jellyfish tentacle can get under the shirt and not get out anymore. This is worse than wearing nothing. Wear a proper stinger suit instead. There are a few on the market, but in a test done in Australia only the long, one-piece suits made of 3 millimeter neoprene give good protection. Unfortunately these suits are not suitable for Thailand - too hot.
As long as there is nothing else available, my family and I will continue using Safe Sea and always have a bottle of vinegar in the car.

Posted by Barba on January 5, 2010 11:00

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@risky: this CPR thing really could save a lot of lives here in Phuket / Thailand. To my shame I am not sure, I could do it. Doll training was long ago...

@Barba: Thanks for the clarification on T-Shirts. There are some t-shirts, designed for UV protection and swimming that do close nicely around the body, that I had in mind. But for the misnomed "SafeSea" I am still too afraid for long term effects on my skin.

With some caution for the sea and its creatures my family and me were able to get stung only once, that was in the mediterranean sea, where I fell off a jetski only five meters away from a big swarm of jellies and hit one of the strays. But no vinegar, so that hurt a while.

That is also, why I am happy Phuketwan tells the story. To educate. Call me stupid, but I thought the Box Jellies are only living in Australia...

I really appreciate any information and I am happy to learn about it.

Editor: Box jellies come in many varieties. So far, Phuket has yet to experience a serious incident. I am keen to hear whether jellyfish have the ability to move their tentacles under a t-shirt. My impression is that they wrap around an object, but to suggest they can actually feel their way under a t-shirt is news to me. I'd like to hear what the experts have to say about that one.

Posted by Lena on January 5, 2010 16:33

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Argh bugger this. Cut the crap.
I got stung by a Box jelly andf brought this to the attention of the international community of Drs. diving.
I wear a full rash and sting protection suit and was told by a good dive company, I look like a twat when diving. I was a Dive Master trainee, not any more S-Heads, I was stung and you know nothing of the pain, feel it for yourself, OK. Just Do It OK?
I gave up being a Dive Master, so I could dive in comfort Knowing I am "Covered".
Stuff the non-believers, your time to be stung will come soon.
THEN, complain to me, I don't give a SH!( .
OK. Call me when the pain exceeds the vinegar treatment

Posted by Graham on January 5, 2010 19:24

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Thanks for the article Phuketwan. Just back from snorkeling/diving Lombok where the family all wore full lycra suits - they are lightweight, not hot, easy to put on/off at water's edge, feel fine in the water and provided excellent protection to jellyfish and other marine stingers (some non toxic but stinging jellyfish and sea lice were detected at site) and harsh sun.

Tell me Phuketwan, why is Mr Kochan "certainly right" when he says that people on Phuket are not yet ready to don protective suits?? When is the right time?? I would have thought it would be before a serious sting.

An exhaustive study on protective clothing has been conducted and published by Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin and comments above about 3mm neoprene suits are incorrect - lycra is ideal.

T-shirts billow about underwater when swimming due to air pockets and movement providing space for long loose tentacles or tiny irukandji to penetrate which is why tight fitting full (or adequate ankle to wrist and neck) coverage is recommended.

Plenty of box jellyfish and irukandji stings making headlines in Australia at the moment but as yet no fatalities - would similar instances or injuries make news in Thailand? Unlikely.

Many swear by Safe Sea lotion and that is great BUT in Thailand it has NOT been tested on the seriously dangerous and known killer species so maybe it provides protection to some (how many species has it been tested on out of the hundreds that sting?) but combined with misleading advertising it is putting innocent people at risk.

And Graham wearing a lycra suit is much like wearing a wet suit for diving so don't understand why you'd look like a "twat". I'd rather do that anyway than further pollute the ocean with chemicals and feel unsafe when I know lethal box jellyfish share the water.

Posted by Andrew on January 12, 2010 20:13

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Thanks for the comments Andrew.
The problem I have with a wet suit is it much too hot for me, even the thinnest ones.
Also no buoyancy problems either.

That's why I opted for the lycra rash suit. It is very lightweight and dries quickly. Also easy to put on and pull-off after swimming.
Want to buy my full wet suit a Mare tri-layer ?

Another guy stung by an Irukandji box jelly, wait for it, while fishing off a bulk carrier. He was not even in the water, poor soul. Reports said it was the size of a finger nail. OOOOOh that must have hurt!

Editor: Incidents in north Queensland this season are said to be at record levels, so it may just be a matter of years for Phuket. But it's hard to expect people who come for beach holidays to suit-up. That will only come with incidents.

Posted by Graham on January 12, 2010 21:27


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