: Classifieds : MyJU :
Stories: Health
Browse Health Stories: « Previous Story | Next Story »

Hazards of the Shallows - Okinawa’s Toxic Jellyfish

By: Sheila J. Vaughen

Date Posted: 2000-09-15

One recent sunny Saturday, two American couples, one with two small children, arrived at their destination of Hamahiga beach on Okinawa’s southeastern coast. After a couple of enthusiastic recommendations from friends, they had been looking forward to going for weeks. After setting up their chairs, coolers and umbrellas, they surveyed the inviting blue water, taking in the bright sights and playful sounds of the beach. They anticipated nothing but a great time with family and friends. After soaking up the sun for a bit, the two men decidedly to go out for some snorkeling. Kelly, mother of a three-year-old and an infant of seven months, took her girls to play in the shallow water, just at the point where the surf was breaking into gently pulling waves.

Thirty minutes into their splashy fun, baby Kaley suddenly erupted with a heart shocking scream. The initial shriek and ensuing panicked cries were the kind that every mother knows to be indicative of real pain and some kind of danger. A small jellyfish, said by Kelly to be no bigger than a fist, had laced its eight-inch tentacles around the baby’s legs, injecting into her soft chubby flesh its tiny pronged weapons of attack. Kelly and her girlfriend grabbed the girls, ran out of the water and tried to determine what was going on. The jellyfish had hit Kelly on her legs also. While she felt a constant burning, it was not unbearable, as it seemed to be for her baby. Hearing the screams, some local Okinawans hurried over to the frantic scene and were told by Kelly’s Japanese-speaking friend that an unknown type of jellyfish had hit them. One of the Okinawans pulled out a supply of vinegar, brought to the beach just for this purpose, and poured it over the affected areas on both the baby and her mother. Concerned that the jellyfish could have possibly been one of the seriously toxic varieties, one Okinawan called for an ambulance and arranged for the Americans to be taken to a local medical clinic.

For what seemed like a very long time for her parents, the baby’s cries continued. Finally, shrieks subsided to whimpers. The baby appeared to either be worn out or approaching a more serious phase of toxic reaction. The not knowing made her mother even more worried. Soon after, the panic of the morning subsided as the baby was treated at the Japanese clinic with more vinegar and cold compresses. Through interpretation from their Japanese-speaking friend, the parents were told there would probably not be any serious problems for the baby girl from her brush with the deceptively innocuous-looking jellyfish.

They were also given a hydrocortisone cream from the clinic to minimize scarring. Weeks after the incident, the once-bright red trails that wound around both little legs, had healed and faded almost completely. The family’s realization that the ocean’s dangers can lie just inches beneath the surface however, has not faded. “She’ll be fine, but I tell you, we’ll be much better prepared from now on. We’ve decided we will always take vinegar and some kind of first aid kit every time we go to the beach.”

It is a good safety precaution according to Dr. Robert Bolland, Marine Biologist professor at University of Maryland’s Asian Pacific Division on Okinawa. As one of Okinawa’s resident academic experts and researchers on marine life, Dr. Bolland recently spoke about some types of potentially hazardous marine life.

He emphasized that while stinging or dangerous marine life can be present anywhere in the world’s oceans, people should still get out and explore the strange wonders of the water. “The last thing I would want to do is to scare people so that they don’t go out and experience the oceans and beaches around here.”

Like the family at Hamahiga beach found out, the area just below the water’s surface is a common area to run into a toxic marine animal. Because they are at the surface, swimmers and snorkelers are more vulnerable to some types of jellyfish than are divers who spend more time in deeper waters.

There are numerous known species of jellyfish and their hydroid relatives around the world. A few dangerous varieties can be found in the waters of the Indo-Pacific, which includes Okinawa. A couple of the better known, and best avoided, are the Box Jellyfish, the Sea Wasp and the Australian Sea Wasp. The latter one is reported to be one of the world’s most dangerous types, known to have caused at least 50 deaths in Australia over recent decades.

The Pacific Portuguese Man-of-War is probably familiar to many laymen as a toxic jellyfish. Technically, however this one is not a true jellyfish, but rather a type of stinging hydroid in the same class as fire corals, also found in this area. When a jellyfish causes problems for people, it is merely because they have drifted into one as they float and consume their food. Possessing no actual brain, jellyfish disable their prey by use of their stinging cells. In essence, these stinging cells turn themselves inside out to eject miniscule toxic barbs into their prey. As is true with hazardous terrestrial animals, people react in different ways to toxic marine life. As Dr. Bolland put it, “I might get stung by something and just swear at it, you might get stung by something and go into anaphylactic shock.” The degree of seriousness depends mainly on the body’s reactions to the poisons.

Dr. Bolland also pointed out that another often overlooked hazard of the water is a simple bacterial infection that can result from a cut, scrape or any break in the skin. This is another reason to always take along a first aid kit when swimming, snorkeling or exploring the reefs. The cooler months, between October and May are identified as more dangerous times of the year to encounter jellyfish in tropical and sub-tropical waters. Not all jellyfish are dangerous to humans however. One such type frequently found floating off Okinawa’s coast in droves is the Palauan jellyfish. According to Bolland, these get quite large, up to the size of a volleyball in diameter. Whenever exploring the ocean and the beaches for whatever reason, precautions should be taken and common sense should be applied. The following is a brief checklist of do’s and dont's.

Pack a supply of plain vinegar in your first aid kit and always take this with you to the beach or the water.

Avoid the tentacles of a jellyfish whenever possible.

If a person is stung, pour ample amounts of vinegar on the affected areas until the pain has stopped for several minutes. If a serious reaction seems evident, seek medical attention right away.

Learn and practice CPR when necessary.

Always adequately wash any cuts or skin breaks after being in the ocean to avoid

Browse Health Stories: « Previous Story | Next Story »

weather currency health and beauty restaurants Yellowpages JU Blog

OkistyleJU FacebookOkistyle

Go to advertising PDF?||?|o?L?qAE?|?}?OA?N?ga`OkiStyle?A??q?qM?oeu^?I`??N?gX?<eth>?<ETH>?ni^?IWanted!!Golden Kings ScheduleOkiNightSeeker