Summer has begun, and the bathing season is upon us, but as the sea warms up so comes the threat of swarms of jellyfish, known as blooms, which have created problems along Mediterranean coasts in recent years.
There are a number of reasons for the increase in numbers, over fishing has led to a reduction in their natural predators such as tuna, as well as reducing the number of smaller fish which compete with them for the plankton on which they feed.
Rising sea temperatures along with a reduction in cold water flowing into the sea from rivers, has also led to an increase in these pests.
These jellyfish blooms are not merely an inconvenience, occasionally causing the closure of bathing areas, but a serious threat to Spain’s tourist industry.
Fortunately here in Spain we do not have to cope with the more dangerous types of jellyfish such as the Box Jellyfish and the Sea Wasp, but stings can still be painful and spoil a good day on the beach.
Most stings occur when bathers accidentally come into direct contact with the tentacles of jellyfish. The stinging structures on the tentacles are called nematocysts, which are spring loaded venom glands that contain small, hollow, sharp tubes. The tubes release toxin.
The nematocysts are triggered by direct physical contact. When human skin comes into contact with a jellyfish, the poison is injected into the outermost layers of skin, causing the toxic reaction of a typical sting.
Most jellyfish stings result in skin eruptions, which appear as a painful, raised, red rash that itches. The rash is usually limited to the area of skin that came into direct contact with the jellyfish.
Signs of a dangerous jellyfish sting
Most jellyfish stings are painful, but not dangerous. But for people with jellyfish allergies, individuals with compromised immune systems, the very old, or the very young, a sting can be dangerous.
Any signs of shock or an allergic reaction warrant prompt emergency care. Warning signs include:
- difficulty breathing
- a rapidly spreading rash
- changes in consciousness
What to do if stung
Recent medical research has debunked a number of treatments with the latest advice being that the most effective treatment is the application of a heat pad, or submerging the wound in hot water (40 degrees centigrade).
A good dowsing with white wine vinegar will deactivate undischarged nematocysts and the toxin and will help to decrease symptoms. Place a cloth soaked in the vinegar over the affected area (do not rub it) for 30 minutes or so. It is a good idea to carry a bottle of vinegar and some tweezers in your beach bag, along with other essentials such as sun cream and water.
Using protective gloves or tweezers, remove any tentacles still in contact with the victim.
An anti-inflammatory painkiller such as Ibuprofen may also be given.
There are a number of old wives’ tales regarding the treatment of jellyfish stings, including urinating on the affected area.
We are assured that this is not only ineffective, but also unpleasant and may result in some strange looks from your neighbouring beach goers.
The Aula del Mar de Málaga marine research association has produced an app for Android and iPhone users which gives beachgoers information on the current jellyfish situation on their favourite bathing spots along the Costa del Sol. More information here: INFOMEDUSA