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Some Of the Dangers


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  Great Barrier Reef - Irukandji

Dangers on the Great Barrier Reef....

Irukandji (Carukia barnesi) 

30th October 2012 Updated information from Marine Stinger and Jelly Fish Expert Dr Lisa-Ann Gershwin, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research Hobart.

October 2012 CSIRO Pilot Project

Ground breaking News on Irukandji Prediction for the Great Barrier Reef in Australia The proof-of-concept phase of the Irukandji prediction project has been marvellously successful!

A future real-time computer model tool to predict Irukanji blooms will hopefully be turned into a smart phone application in the not too distant future for the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. A team of experts including Dr Lisa-Ann Gershwin say's they have figured out how to predict them and they are now turning it into a computer model with the aim of then turning that into an iPhone app.

Dr Lisa-Ann Gershwin from the CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research Centre in Hobart explains this is a real breakthrough for Australia's Great Barrier Reef tourism stakeholders as what this would mean is, essentially it would be like with cyclones, where you certainly don't want them to come, but given that they are a fact of living in the tropics, if you can at least know when and where then you can have a bit of warning and reduce any potential injuries.

It will also help to alleviate the fear of the unknown for tourists that may be totally misinformed about the safety of swimming in tropical waters at certain times of the year all over the world .

Over the years, tourism in Tropical North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef has been given a bad rap with regards to swimming from November to May because of the fear of being stung by a life threatening jelly fish. Whilst we agree you should always err on the side of caution when in unfamiliar territory the jellyfish situation is not as bad as some media or persons would have you believe especially when you compare it to the number deaths and injuries in other regions of Australia from other marine creatures like sharks, or as a comparison to the number of people killed at home by snakes.

The real probability of a sting by a jellyfish or marine stinger is said to be as low as one in one million chances and there are not very many recorded deaths at all. For you to have a fatal reaction to an Irukanji jelly fish sting you would have to have extenuating circumstances like a pre-disposed heart condition or other medical issue. If you have had an Irukanji jelly fish sting then you will definitely want to seek medical advice as soon as possible because the animal's toxins will make you feel the worst you have ever ever felt in your life and it certainly is an experience that you will never forget.

Thank you to the endless hours of work and research of people like Dr Lisa-Ann Gershwin (the Jelly fish goddess) and others we are now better able to predict the perfect atmospheric and ocean conditions and days for the jelly fish to potentially be in the water. The conditions need to be a very light north easterly breeze around as little as 5 knots with dead flat water and if you see little jelly buttons (Salps) half the size of your fingernails on the edge of the shore then there is definitely a high probability that there will be Irukanji jellyfish in the waters.

Funny thing is right behind those Irukanji jelly fish is a gorgeous sea turtle having the time of their life eating all of these soft gooey animals keeping their numbers at bay. We will refrain from mentioning here what is right behind the sea turtle wanting to eat them as that is another topic on its own. Isn't Mother Nature just marvellous?

Australian Jelly Fish Marine Stinger Experts

Australia is known as a world leader in Marine Stinger Research as researchers from the world over have been coming to Tropical North Queensland since the 1946 and we now have the most extensive and oldest records that all other scientists refer to when studying these marine animals.

Whilst it is fantastic that we hold these records it has also been a contributing factor to the belief that Tropical North Queensland is the only place in the world with these Irukanji jelly fish which really is a naïve concept considering the ever changing currents of the oceans that circulate around our world. Irukanji jelly fish and marine stingers are found the world over but they seem to like tropical waters more than colder climates. Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, the British Isles, and Florida are just some of the other destinations that were mentioned on a National Geographic documentary.

These jellyfish have been here forever and a day and are definitely not just indigenous to Tropical North Queensland. Unfortunately other destinations and countries do not advise travellers of the probability of the presence of jelly fish in the ocean like Australia.

Tropical North Queensland marine tourism operators all operate under a "duty of care" system and carry full piece lycra swimming suits for those guests that wish to swim and snorkel with a sense of safety. Whilst these lycra suits cover most of your body they are not entirely fashionable but they have been instrumental in reducing the number of potential stings per annum to very low numbers and at the same time it also ensures tourists swim without a huge mental fear factor and having to worry too much about being stung from a little creature they cannot see.

The new Irukanji jelly fish and Marine Stinger computer model is still being tested and hopefully we should see it in operation in 2013. Watch this space as we bring you the latest and most up to date information on Jelly fish and Marine stingers of The Great Barrier Reef.

Irukanji Fact and Fiction


The Irukandji (C. barnesi) is a small jellyfish approx 2cm diameter bell, responsible for an unusual and dramatic syndrome observed following stings in northern Australia, especially north Queensland.

image copyright L. Gershwin

Carukia barnesi - Irukandji

Stings have been recorded from Childers to Broome,and as far afield as the isle of Anglesey in the United Kingdom. A similar syndrome has been described elsewhere in the Pacific. Every summer, more than sixty people are hospitalized with this potentially fatal syndrome. The initial sting of the jellyfish is usually not very painful. But about 5-45 (usually 30) minutes after being stung, the person starts to have a severe backache or headache and shooting pains in their muscles, chest and abdomen. They may also feel nauseous, anxious, restless and vomit. In rare cases, the victim suffers pulmonary oedema (fluid on the lungs) which could be fatal if not treated.

Carukia barnesi has a single retractile tentacle, from 50 to 500 mm long, hanging from each of the four corners of its bell.

In 1964, a doctor called Jack Barnes spent several hours in a wetsuit lying in the water near Cairns searching for a jellyfish responsible for 'irukandji syndrome' - a set of symptoms suffered after a jellyfish sting that could put the victim in hospital. Irukandji is the name of an aboriginal tribe that once lived in the area around Cairns in north Queensland.

To Dr Barnes' delight, a thumbnail-sized jellyfish swam past his mask. He stung himself, his son and a surf life saver to check that the jellyfish he had caught was responsible for 'irukandji syndrome'. All three ended up in hospital. For Dr Barnes' dedication, the tiny jellyfish was later called Carukia barnesi.

Report on the latest medical research (Jan 2003)

Are irukandji deadly?
In January 2002, a tourist swimming near Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays died after being stung by a jellyfish. His death was reported by the press to have been caused by an irukandji. 

The 58-year-old man had a pre-existing medical condition that made a jellyfish sting fatal. He had a valve replacement and was taking warfarin to thin his blood. After he was stung, his blood pressure increased which caused a brain hemorrhage leading to his death. 

The jellyfish that stung the man was not collected and its identity remains a mystery. 

As with most dangers, if you take the right precautions and are aware of them, you can take steps to minimize the impact of the danger and still enjoy all the wonderful beauty of the reef. The specialised dive operators in Cairns will take all precautions necessary to ensure you have a safe and rewarding day out on the reef.


Unlike Chironex fleckeri (Box Jelly Fish), Irukandji are found mostly in the deeper waters of the reef, although they may be swept inshore by prevailing currents. Divers and snorkellers are particularly at risk. 


More Information

For more information on Marine Stingers and Jelly Fish please read this Interesting Interview between Christina James of 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 Where they discuss the chances of being stung whilst swimming the Great Barrier Reef.

First Aid First Aid

Victims frequently require hospitalisation for analgesia and sometimes intravenous antihypertensive therapy; alpha-blocking agents such as phentolamine have been used for this purpose. Supraventricular tachycardia and transient dilated cardiomyopathy have been reported following Irukandji stings, and it has been suggested that serial echocardiography be performed to monitor the progress of severely affected patients. Analgesia is usually required, and may need to be given intravenously when pain is severe. First aid consists of analgesia and reassurance. The role of vinegar to inactivate undischarged nematocysts remains uncertain, with initial work proving inconclusive. No definitive treatment is currently available for the Irukandji syndrome. The Australian Venom Research Unit is currently involved in research to develop an antivenom to treat Irukandji envenomation. 

**references obtained from and the university of Melbourne  The picture above is for a general representation only