Last weekend, beaches in Australia experienced an unprecedented invasion of jellyfish, which have reportedly stung more than 3,500 people. According to Surf Life Saving, a "whopping" 3,595 people have been stung by bluebottle jellyfish on southeast beaches in Queensland. Surf Life Saving duty officer Jeremy Sturges described the unexpected attack as an “epidemic."
“I have never seen anything like this – ever,” he said.
Most of those nipped by the tentancled marine animals, which have been around for more 500 million years, were on Australia’s Gold Coast, while others were enjoying the waters of the Sunshine Coast, located north of Brisbane. On Saturday, Surf Life Saving Queensland advised that a "wall of bluebottles" was rapidly making its way to Rainbow Beach. Local officials decided to promptly close access to the beach.
"Due to the northeasterly winds, we will continue to see bluebottles hanging around," the agency said. "If stung, ensure you see a lifeguard to be treated with ice or hot water."
Though jellyfish stings are generally harmless, they are painful and can be problematic for those with allergies, as well as children and seniors. On Australia’s east coast, between 10,000 and 30,000 swimmers are stung by bluebottles, also known as Pacific man o' wars, each year, according to the Australian Museum.
Jellyfish are protected by millions of nematocysts, which are capable of piercing the skin and injecting venom. Victims may experience mild discomfort, extreme pain or even death, as a result of anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction. In the Philippines, jellyfish kill 20 to 40 people a year, and in Spain, nearly 20,000 beachgoers are stung each year along the Costa Brava.
In order to treat a jellyfish sting, lifeguards may apply vinegar, followed by hydrocortisone to reduce pain and inflammation. A common misconception is that alcohol, ammonia, fresh water, or urine can also be used to treat jellyfish stings. Experts advise against these remedies since they can result in the release of more venom. For serious stings, immune-based antivenins are commonly used.
Jellyfish are normally found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as along Australia’s eastern coast in the summer. They can also end up stranded on the shore, putting those walking on the sand at risk for stings.
“People have been hurt as they just walk along the shoreline," Sturges said. "Don’t pick it up, don’t walk on it or you will be stung."