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Dr Somchai treads through the algae bloom at Nam Bor Bay

Phuket's Box Jellyfish: Out There Somewhere

Friday, February 20, 2009
Jellyfish Hunt Photo Album Above

WE ARE in the sea at Nam Bor Bay, a short drive from Phuket City, looking for box jellyfish. Today, just like last week, there are none to be found in the fishtraps along the pretty stretch of coast.

This is good news. No box jellyfish near Phuket!

But the persistent question nags: if the box jellyfish are not here, then where are they?

The ''boxies'' have a life cycle of about 12 months. The ones we saw here back in October were immature.

They are intelligent creatures, capable of seeing 360 degrees, and able to propel themselves. But where?

''That's a question I am keen to answer,'' says Dr Somchai Bussarawit, the chief of the museum and aquarium at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre.

He is in the water, too, looking on as researcher Surasit Utsaha checks the fishtraps. It's a glorious Phuket morning and Nam Bor Bay gleams beautifully.

But there's this green stuff across the foreshore. Ah, of of course. It's algae bloom, returning againt to cover large stretches of coral rocks and sand, indicating that the state of Phuket's seas may not be as pure as they once were.

For Dr Somchai, the puzzles of the ''boxies'' and the bloom are all part of what makes marine science fascinating these days, dovetailing as it does with global warming and other environmental issues.

I notice traces of oil on the surface of the water near one of the fish traps and pieces of trash and broken glass around, too.

If the jellyfish have any sense, perhaps they have gone somewhere cleaner . . .

WHAT they leave behind is an awareness campaign that is improving safety at beaches on Phuket and around the Andaman.

Once it was known that box jellyfish were in the region, a debate took place behind the scenes as to whether people (read 'tourists') really needed to know they were here.

Fortunately, the authorities decided to adopt international standards, to issue warnings and to advise people on how to deal with box jellyfish stings.

With the involvement of the Governor, Dr Preecha Ruangjan, the jellyfish awareness campaign blossomed into a beach safety campaign.

More needs to be done, but by next high season, most popular beaches should have beach paramedical rescue teams who have been trained to deal with all kinds of beach hazards.

Awareness of the box jellyfish is also now regionwide, with Dr Somchai holding a series of seminars for up to 200 people. More are still to come even wider afield, in Samui and Surat Tani.

A larger gathering is scheduled for April, with an expert flying in from Australia.

What the Andaman and its tourists still need to know is where the box jellyfish plan to stay when they come to the region again. And where they are now.

Understanding everything there is to know about the box jellyfish is probably the region's most important scientific endeavor since the 2004 tsunami, when forensics experts from around the world helped to identify thousands of unnamed victims.

While there is no direct connection between the two unexpected and unwanted arrivals, the big wave proved one thing, once and for all.

It is much better to know what Nature plans next, to warn everyone, and to be prepared for all eventualities.

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" Once pure waters"?
No more! Surin Beach has raw sewage draining into it at high tide, Yummy.

Posted by Christy on February 21, 2009 09:18


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