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One of two small non-deadly box jellyfish types found in a Phuket bay

Phuket's Jellyfish Specialists Ready for Action

Monday, October 19, 2009
Phuketwan Jellyfish Photo Album Above

PHUKET is becoming an international centre for the study of jellyfish, inspiring neighboring countries to be more open about the spread of potentially deadly ''boxies'' especially.

Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia are now all following the lead set by Phuket marine biologists in warning people about the unpopular visitors.

The good news is that the small box jellyfish discovered last year in large numbers at Nam Bor Bay on Phuket's east coast appear to be varieties that are of low toxicity.

In other words, they may sting. But they won't kill you.

Other types of box jellyfish are regarded as the world's most poisonous animal, with tentacles capable of inflicting extreme agony and death within minutes.

Along with the rest of the world, Phuket has more jellyfish than it wants, with another non-dangerous type flopping onto Patong and other popular western beaches last January.

Will they be back this year? Maybe.

Dr Somchai Bussarawit of the Phuket Marine Biology Centre is learning about their habits, but he can't read their minds just yet.

He and three doctors from the Public Health department are to visit Australia on research grants in 2009-2010. The grants have come through the Divers Alert Network.

''The season is coming soon so we will be undertaking some surveys,'' Dr Somchai said. ''We will be coordinating our research in the Gulf of Thailand, too.''


Dr Somchai thinks an upwelling of a colder stream of deep water could be the reason for last season's invasion. There are not so many sea turtles around lately, either, to eat them.

More than 10 species of jellyfish are seen around Thailand waters, including some that are edible and caught for export.

There has only been one recorded death in the Andaman, a young Swedish tourist who was stung on a Koh Lanta beach in April last year.

Awareness has grown since then, with the discovery of two small varieties of box jellyfish in a bay on Phuket's east coast. There have been no sightings of them elsewhere, or of dangerous box jellyfish on Phuket's popular west coast beaches.

However, thanks to the awareness campaign, vinegar is now in most coastal first aid kits, because it's the only recognised treatment for jellyfish stings.

Vinegar does not ease the pain, but it stops the poison from spreading. It's widely acknowledged as the only treatment that works.

From November, officials and fishermen will be on the lookout for signs of increasing numbers of jellyfish off the island.

''It has been very interesting, from a scientific perspective,'' Dr Somchai said. ''We are continuing to try to track the life cycle and habits of the jellyfish around Phuket.''

He said there was evidence that some species of turtles were increasing in the Gulf of Thailand, which was an encouraging sign. Turtles are the natural predators of jellyfish.

People throughout Thailand were now more concerned about the environment and embracing conservation programs more and more, Dr Somchai said.

Overfishing still appeared to be a problem, though, with discarded nets trapping large marine creatures too often.

''I think fishermen don't want to harm these creatures,'' he said. ''But there has to be a balance.''

Other countries are following Thailand's lead, with surveys being undertaken in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

''It's a global issue,'' Dr Somchai said. ''Now we are more open in reporting scientific information and promoting awareness.''

Sightings of jellyfish in numbers on Phuket or elsewhere should be reported directly to the marine biology centre, or alert phuketwan and we'll pass on the message.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Last November I was stung on the foot and anle while walking chest deep in murky water during a rain storm in Khao Lak. I've just returned from Koh Samet in the Gulf where a good friend and hotel owner was stung very badly on the arm on October 13

I also went Kayaking and saw literally hundreds of the large plate-sized, see-through jelly fish, which apparently do sting but not very badly. So they're back already, at least in the Gulf. They seem to be attracted to the shorelines towards the end of the rainy season. Be careful, especially in murky water.

Posted by Andrew Chant on October 20, 2009 13:13

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As part of Thailand's growing role as regional leader in dangerous jellyfish research, Dr Somchai Bussarawit at the PMBC has investigated reports of serious stings and in the case of Andrew Chant who commented on this story on Oct 20 I am sure details of the 2 stings mentioned would be welcome.

In fact, any significant stings should be reported to the closest medical facility or/and the PMBC.

Posted by Andrew J on October 28, 2009 11:57

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Ten days ago i was stung by a jellyfish in Nai Harn bay. only swelled up later that day. Rash front and back, flu-like symptoms, upper body tender. Cream from Pharmacy ineffective. Still painful.Did not use vinegar. please warn swimmers.

Posted by Dr Patrick Campbell on November 25, 2011 22:43


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