Stingers, gators, and sharks, OH MY!

jellyfish   beach at palm cove

One of my dreams since high school was to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  I loved the movie, “Finding Nemo,” and wanted to show my daughter where Nemo lives. During my sabbatical, I finally had my chance.  I thought I had planned everything out perfectly.  We rented a condo in Palm Cove, Australia for 2 weeks in the middle of December.  It was going to be sunny and hot in the high 80’s or low 90’s.  Great weather to be swimming in the beautiful ocean.  Or so I thought.  When we finally arrived at the beach, the first thing I noticed, besides the blue water and the soft white sand, was that NO ONE was swimming in the water!  No one was even dipping their feet in the water.  And then we started asking the locals why.  We discovered that the waters near the beaches were infested with JELLYFISH (really big and long ones).  On top of that, it was ALLIGATOR mating season.  And to make it worse, plenty of SHARKS were around!  I kept wondering why I never read about this before on Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet.

On every beach in tropical Queensland that we visited, there were signs warning people of jellyfish, or “stingers,”  and bottles of vinegar around.  If you really wanted to swim in the ocean, it was best to wear a “stinger suit,”  which is a full-body wet suit with hoodie, gloves, and shoes.  On some beaches, there were also swimming enclosures with nets to keep the jellyfish out.  But even these preventive measures were not 100% protective.  I witnessed a boy who was wearing a full stinger suit get painfully stung in the ankle, where there was exposed skin between the suit and the shoe!  I think he was crying for about 2 hours. Poor child!

Jellyfish stings are common and PAINFUL but rarely life threatening. If you think you just got stung by a jellyfish, follow these simple steps:

  1. Get out of the water. Calmly.
  2. Rinse the area with seawater.  Don’t rub the area.  If you have vinegar, rinse the area with vinegar for 30 seconds.  (Vinegar helps prevent the tiny stingers, called nematocysts, from firing.)  A paste of baking soda and seawater can also be used.
  3. Use a credit card to scrape off the stingers still on the skin.  
  4. Take Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen for pain.  Ice packs can also help relieve pain and swelling.

If you get stung, you will likely have skin redness, swelling, tingling/numbness, a “print of tentacles” on the skin, and throbbing pain. However, severe jellyfish stings can also occur and affect other body organs.

Call 911 or seek emergency treatment if there are signs of the following:

  1. Trouble breathing
  2. Swollen mouth or tongue
  3. Nausea/Vomiting
  4. Headache and dizziness
  5. Loss of consciousness
  6. Muscle spasms
  7. Stings over a large part of the body or in the eye/mouth
  8. Stung by a very dangerous jellyfish, such as the box jellyfish, Portuguese man-of-war, Lion’s mane jellyfish, or sea nettle.

I was still able to visit the Great Barrier Reef on a boat excursion. We had a great time in the underwater submarine ride.  We did a little bit of snorkeling. My daughter had fun seeing the coral and colorful fish (sadly, no Nemo).  No one in my family got stung by a jellyfish.  But the next time we want to go to a tropical beach destination, I will be sure to ask the locals whether it is safe to swim in the waters there before booking the trip.

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