Lifesavers sweep for Irukandji jellyfish in Fraser Island waters after more people stung
Lifesavers have found several Irukandji in their sweeps on Fraser Island over the weekend. (Supplied: Surf Life Saving Queensland)
Surf lifesavers are conducting stinger sweeps at Wathumba Creek on the western side of Fraser Island after two more people were flown from the area to hospital with suspected Irukandji stings on Saturday.
- A 25yo man and 47yo woman were taken by rescue helicopter to hospital with suspected Irukandji stings on Saturday
- Lifesavers have found several Irukandji on the western side of Fraser Island
- Campers should always carry vinegar when four-wheel-driving on Fraser Island and consider wearing stinger suits
A 25-year-old man and 47-year-old woman were taken by rescue helicopter to the Hervey Bay Hospital after being stung about 5:00pm on Saturday.
They were kept in hospital overnight and given pain relief before being discharged on Sunday morning.
The day before, a man in his 20s was evacuated from the same area of the south-east Queensland island with a marine sting.
That takes the number of people taken to hospital with suspected Irukandji stings in Queensland so far this season to more than 20, almost double the 10-year average.
The Surf Life Saving Queensland coordinator for Wide Bay, Julie Davies, said lifesavers had found several Irukandji in their sweeps on Fraser Island.
“On the western side of Fraser Island from Moon Point up to Wathumba Creek, we’re doing stinger drags to see if we can catch any samples,” she said.
“[We’re] also going to the campers and letting them know that there is a possibility there could be something in the water.
“We have caught three [Irukandji] last week and then I was over there yesterday, and we caught another two.”
Lifesavers are doing stinger drags from Moon Point to Wathumba Creek. (Supplied: Surf Life Saving Queensland)
River mouth is not a hot spot
Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Service (AMSAS) director Lisa Gershwin said Irukandji do not usually congregate around river mouths like Wathumba Creek, and the high number of stings in this location was more likely to do with the number of people.
“We don’t have any association between Irukandjis and rivers,” she said.
“That wouldn’t be the explanation for why people are being stung at Wathumba Creek. Maybe there are just a lot of people at Wathumba Creek.”
Ms Davies said the western side of Fraser Island was very busy with tourists during the school holidays.
“So the chances of someone getting stung are greater, because the population is greater there,” she said.
People have been urged to wear stinger suits if swimming in the area. (Supplied: Surf Life Saving Queensland)
People urged to carry vinegar and wear stinger suits
Ms Davies said campers should always carry vinegar when four-wheel-driving on Fraser Island and consider wearing stinger suits.
Tropical stinger safety tips:
- Wear protective clothing (wet suit or Lycra body suit), to reduce exposure to potential stings
- Protect your face and avoid putting your head underwater at high-risk locations
- In the absence of a full Lycra suit, wear other protective clothing such as long pants tucked into socks
- Enter water slowly as marine stingers will often swim away from people given the opportunity and time
- If you are planning a trip to Fraser Island, take vinegar with you
“A lot of the local people … that have been going to the island for a lot of years, they carry vinegar and they tend not to swim in the ocean as well, they tend to stick to the freshwater creeks,” she said.
“I would recommend they wear stinger suits — a couple of the charter boats that go out do actually offer stinger suits to the public that go out with them.
“They can be purchased at Hervey Bay at some of the dive shops — they are easily accessible.”
Dr Gershwin said she always wore protective swimwear.
“I think it is never a bad idea [to wear a stinger suit] — it is not only stinger protective, it also protects from sun or UV damage,” she said.
A lifesaver trawls waters on the west coast of Fraser Island. (Supplied: Surf Life Saving Queensland)
Irukandji at Fraser Island ‘nothing new’
Dr Gershwin said Irukandji jellyfish had been found at Fraser Island for decades.
“It is nothing new — we’ve found them south of Fraser Island for more than 100 years,” she said.
“We have newspaper reports and medical reports — it wasn’t called Irukandji Syndrome 100 years ago — but when they describe the symptoms that the people felt, it is obvious.”
Experts say Irukandji don’t usually congregate at river mouths like Wathumba Creek. (ABC News: Kerrin Binnie)
She said more research needed to be done.
“Certainly we are getting more stings in the database,” Dr Gershwin said.
“We really don’t have the evidence in place yet to be able say that it’s the species that’s more common, the awareness that’s more common, the reporting that’s more common, or the people in the water that are more common.
“We simply don’t know what factors are responsible for the increase in stings that are being reported.”
Dr Gershwin said there was no evidence that any tropical Irukandji species had moved south.
“There is lots of evidence — irrefutable evidence — that species that cause Irukandji Syndrome have been south for more than 100 years, but there is no evidence that any tropical species is moving south,” Dr Gershwin said.
Some of the Irukandji jellyfish caught on Far North Queensland beaches during the 2015-16 stinger season. (ABC Far North: Mark Rigby)