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Port Douglas Jelly Fish

An email interview by Christina James from the Cairns Holiday Specialists with Senior Marine Stinger Advisor Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin Curator from the Natural Sciences Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston Tasmania a discussion on Jelly Fish and the chances of ever being stung by a Jelly fish whilst swimming on the Great Barrier Reef.

This open email was conducted to ensure the correct and scientifically accurate information is out there for visitors to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef to read and educate themselves on marine environment safety not only in Cairns but worldwide.

Always remember it is more dangerous driving a car than going for a swim year round in tropical north Queensland.

*Taken With Permission from Cairns Attractions

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From Cairns Holiday Specialists:

Hi Lisa,

Trust you are having a great week in cold Tassie whilst we bask in the year round sunshine up here in Tropical Cairns

Thank you very much for your time on the phone the other evening it was great to talk even if it was about jelly fish you always make me laugh even if the subject is not so interesting or should I say not normal banter that people have generally on a day to day basis.

Anyways onto our phone discussions

This is what we are trying to achieve for tourists visiting Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.

We need to get the facts up on our websites to show that yes there are jelly fish in the sea and yes they do sting and yes they can kill but let's get real about the probability of it actually happening to them.

The message needs to be loud and clear that dangerous jelly fish are world wide and not just Cairns

Message needs to be loud and clear that we are responsible tour operators and we engage safe practices to even further reduce the chance of a sting.

Need to get the message out that there is less chance of a sting in Cairns and the Whitsundays than anywhere else in the world due to our safe practices

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

I think another message that is well worth getting out to tourists in Cairns as part of this is a few key "safety tips" that people can do and look for, so that they feel like they have some control over recognising the days jellyfish may be present and even further lowering their own personal risk - this way, they don't feel like they are at the mercy of someone who may or may not be looking out for their safety to their satisfaction.

Stuff like salps, jelly buttons, sea lice being present in the water as these are the vital signs to keep an eye out for - then when people see that they are not there, they feel more relaxed and more in control of their own destiny.

And when they are there, they feel more inspired to be safe and choose to either stay out of the ocean and swim in the pool or cover up and enjoy the sea as we all should.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

Okay I will try and set down below what we are looking for that will help our cause in Cairns and Tropical North Queensland

We need firstly to educate that Irukandji and Box Jelly fish have been around for centuries and that they are not only in Cairns or the Whitsundays or Northern Australia but other popular holiday destinations such as the Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne, Southern Australia, Hawaii, Florida, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, the Caribbean, North Wales (in the UK) and Fiji and and even the Antarctic basically worldwide in varying numbers and incidences.

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Yep - but I'd leave Antarctic out of it - first off, no Irukandji or box jellies have been reported from there yet, and people rarely swim there (hmmm... if ever!), so it is not something that they can relate to - the reason for naming the others is to demonstrate the normalness of it.

Jelly fish are worldwide not endemic to Northern Australia

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

Yes good point let's not include the Antarctic

We need to educate tourists on why Cairns and the Whitsundays are known as a dangerous jelly fish destinations in Australia IE We have the oldest records dating back to 1946 so people automatically assume we are the only region that has them

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Yeah, basically, this is where the hub of safety, research and scientific knowledge on Box jelly fish and Irukanjis has been recorded. It's not that they are "more numerous" here, per se, it's that it's more pro-active here in terms of knowledge and prevention, and has been since the 1940's.

It's just a historical tradition that the scientific research and data hub is here - it could have quite easily been anywhere else in the world in terms of need or actual interest in the subject of Jelly fish which not too many people find interesting apart from maybe myself and my colleagues and yourself Christina as it affects tourism to Cairns during the Green season which is a real shame as there is nothing to be scared of at all.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

Dr Lisa-ann these regions mentioned above are some of the in-coming markets for the Cairns region that actually have the same issues in their own backyards but have not been advised and now they are in panic mode more and more each year about our destination and it is getting to the point they are not coming because they are frightened of the rumours they hear from uneducated people talking about killer jelly fish in Cairns and warning them not to come as they put their lives at risk going to the Great Barrier Reef

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

I understand completely. It's the "black box" that frightens people, not the risk itself. Look at automobiles - far higher mortality rate and morbidity rate than all marine and terrestrial animals combined, and yet, we are not "afraid" - we understand the risk and the prevention, and we make our own risk assessment each time we get in the car and choose to wear or not wear our seatbelt.

The point here is to "demystify" stingers in a non-freaky way, so that they become "just another risk" rather than this "deadly mystery from the deep".

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

We need to advise them it is safe to go in the water all year round but just be aware of the conditions

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Yes, this is exactly right. And then we arm them with a bit of knowledge and years of research so that they are a bit more in control of their own destiny. Again, the salps, the sea lice, the lycra suits, etc. etc.

If you look at various risks and things we are afraid of, it becomes clear: Mozzies, when we hear that familiar buzzing around dusk, we instantly remember to put on our repellent.

Sun: when we start to feel warm skin, we instantly remember to put on our sunscreen.

We are accustomed to connecting certain stimuli with certain actions - what makes stingers scary is that most people don't know what to look for and don't know what to do, don't know how to react.

Irukandji Fact and Fiction Poster

Image Courtesy of Tourism Whitsundays

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

We need to demonstrate that we are not trying to over inform and alarm people but due to the volume of research and the internet nowadays we now have more knowledge and more answers to enable us to share our knowledge on how to protect ourselves even if the statistical information indicates the probability of a sting is relatively very rare.

We need to demonstrate that if we can reduce the chances even further then its worth the effort of us splashing the news all over the place.

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

This is exactly right. It's about a balanced and positive awareness, with a focus on prevention. Its not about being scared or scary. I am not afraid of mozzies, I simply put on my repellent and advise people with me to do the same.

I am not afraid of a car accident, but I do make sure I wear my seat belt and stay on my side of the road.

Where people start getting scared, and rightly so, is if (by analogy) you know that there is a mozzie risk, and I tell you "oh yes, they bite you and you can get Dengue and die" and another person tells you "once you get bitten, you are in for a lot of agony and there's nothing you can do about it" and another person tells you "naw, those mozzie repellants are crap, if the mozzie wants to bite you, it's gonna bite you" and another person tells you "some people have a higher tendency to attract mozzies than others, but you don't know until you're with them" and another tells you "naw, it's all a bunch of media hype, they are just trying to scare you, I've lived here all my life, and I've never used mozzie repellent, and I've never been bitten, and as a matter of fact, I don't know anyone who has" etc etc - by the way, I have heard all these comments about stingers, and I'm sure you have too - imagine how it must sound to a foreigner who just wants to have a good time and be safe?

The reason that the stinger safety message has worked so well in the Whitsundays is that everyone is singing the same tune - not so yet in Cairns but everyone is getting better.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

We need to update the Jelly fish sting statistics and add the probability of being caught up in terrorism nowadays or the number of hairdressers that get cancer each year as that would really balance the scales or at least take the scare out of swimming with Jelly fish to some degree

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

All of these sorts of things are good. But at the end of the day, it's still about demystifying it so that it isn't scary. It's not about turning people into Marine Biologists or stinger experts, it's about making that connection for people between "get in the car, wear a seat belt", "in the sun, use sunscreen", "where mozzies are, use repellent","higher risk stinger conditions, use protective clothing".

I hear all the time that people don't want to use protective clothing - I sincerely believe this is an excuse made by the people who don't want to admit the presence of stingers rather than by the public - the fact is, people want to have a good time and be safe - they will do whatever the local custom is to do that.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

Well we do have to admit lycra does not look good on everyone now does it?

But we do need to demonstrate that Cairns North Queensland has opted for the Duty of Care to our valued tourists in our disclosure of the Marine Stinger issue and demonstrate the reduction of stinger incidences year after year due to our educational awareness and investment by our tourism industry and Marine operators and key researchers like yourself

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Yes, and then the Cairns safety record becomes a key marketing tool that can be used as a comparison to other competing destinations, i.e., stingers are everywhere between the UK and Melbourne, and Cairns will be known as the leading the way in the world's knowledge and prevention.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

Dr Lisa-ann we need to educate people how to protect themselves with a lycra suit at times of known or predictable times even though the odds are slim even if for just for peace of mind and sun protection but to protect themselves not only in Cairns but worldwide when they are on holidays in any beach destination.

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

This is exactly the crux of it, and the message has worked extraordinarily well in the Whitsundays. Some people still opt not to wear a suit, but it's not from being poorly informed they may be fashion conscious. And then you get the unfortunate case of the highly publicised sting recently to the guy in the lycra suit but the underlying fact here is that the reason it was such a newsworthy item is because the Whitsundays doesn't get many stings anymore due to being informed and taking the safety precautions.

A sting to the face seems horrible, but in reality the Cairns region gets approx 5 stings every year to the face just out of sheer odds due to the 1.3 million visitors to the Great Barrier Reef each year the odds are on your side.

When people know how to protect themselves, it becomes their choice - like the sun - everyone knows about the effects of UV; many people still choose to get a beautiful tan, but it's not from lack of knowledge. It's not scary, because if say for example, I get skin cancer, you aren't afraid, because you can say to yourself, I was probably one of those who didn't use sunscreen, whereas you do, so it's not an issue for you.

Especially if my skin cancer is on my back or some part of me that should have been protected, which is the vast majority of the cases. Same with stingers: if you hear that someone was stung on the leg, it doesn't scare you if your legs are covered.

You don't relate to it in a personal way.... Unless you don't realise that you should cover up and it all seems completely random and you think that it could happen to you.

A bit like winning Tattslotto which would be much more fun.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

We need to point out the indicators or the most ideal time for Irukandji and the Box Jelly Fish to be around IE: Salps-small little clear bubbles of jelly on the edge of the shore and when Sea Lice are in the water as these are what they feed on and dead calm water with a slight north easterly

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Yep, exactly, see above.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

We need to educate visitors to be aware wherever they travel worldwide that they will encounter the same issue and that they need to demand the same sort of disclosure and duty of care that they receive in Cairns and North Queensland IE We need to be seen as responsible leaders/researchers

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Yes, this is a HUGE component. Look at the reputation that Volvo built as a family car by leading the way in seat belts, air bags, etc. There is an awful lot of people who will gravitate to a Volvo because they have led the way in safety for that long that if safety is your main concern, you go with the one that you know has it down pat.

There are a lot of other good reasons to get a Volvo, and they capture that market as well - sorry, just taking the analogy to the next step here.... I hear soooooo often from people that they go on holidays to Bali, Fiji or Thailand instead of Queensland because they are afraid of the Jelly fish and stingers in Queensland but they do not realise that these regions have a lot more huge problems than North Queensland has at the moment. --- I truly believe in my heart that this is an easy fix - it's definitely not about slamming Bali or Thailand, it's about recapturing that market that would have come to you if not for that one reason.

By demonstrating that that one reason is based on an erroneous assumption, and that in the final analysis, Queensland is actually a preferred destination because that reason is better managed, it is an easy fix.

There are a lot of fabulous reasons to come to Queensland, and if the reason not to isn't actually based on truth, then it becomes a preferred destination again. The fact is, Queensland is light years ahead in terms of prediction, prevention, and treatment - but you can't really say it like that or else it sounds like a used car salesman.

But you can know it in your heart and use it as the basis for speaking with conviction.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

We need to advise tourists that the oceans are under pressure from pollution thus producing superior species that kill all others and survive and eventually mutate

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Yes, and this part is largely being done for you by all the recent attention to this fact over the past year or so in the popular media, docos, etc. It's just a matter of making the connection to what people are already hearing about it in a credible but not sensationalistic way.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

Yes unfortunately in these parts we do suffer from journalism sensationalism not based on actual facts and we need to push the green card to be sustainably responsible and reduce the oceans dangers

Response From Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Yes, yes yes and yes! Not just sustainable for the Great Barrier Reef and Ecosystem, but sustainable for people's interest and safety too. And while there is some debate as to the positive or negative effects of sunscreen on corals, by erring on the side of safety and conservatism, a lycra or neoprene suit leaves a lot less stuff in the water and on someone's skin, and therefore is a far more "green" means of stinger safety, sun safety, overall aquatic safety for the mutual concern of the oceans inhabitants and visitors alike.

Maybe we should send a message out to the fashion designers of bathing suits to come up with something to make all sizes of people to feel good and trendy.

Response From Cairns Holiday Specialists

Now that has given me some ideas thank you very much Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin

Guests if you would like to read and research more actual scientific data on Box Jelly fish and Irukandji please see Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin's site