In the last few months, a new and unpleasant trend has developed along Marco beaches. Innocent vacationers and locals slip into the warm, bath-like water of the Gulf and suddenly it hits them. A sharp, stinging sensation arises and it’s clear; they’ve been stung by a jellyfish.
The question that begs to be asked is why does it seem like so many more stings are being reported? A quick sit down with Marco Island’s Environmental Specialist, Nancy Richie, provided Coastal Breeze News with answers to this and other burning questions.
CBN: Why so many jellies suddenly?
NR: Jellies swarm offshore in the warm Gulf between May and August – they love it. This is also when southwesterly winds occur which blow the jelly fish nearshore and along the beaches. Freshwater (i.e. lots of rain) does bring them closer to shore as well as tides, currents and wind from storms during the “wet and stormy” season of Southwest Florida.
Q: With a month or so left of high jelly activity on our beaches, what is the best way to handle a jelly fish sting?
NR: A jelly fish sting can be quite painful. There are many different ways to help alleviate the pain. Relief from stings includes:
• Get the person out of the water as quickly as possible.
• Do NOT rinse with fresh water – only rinse with sea water.
•If the tentacle is still on the skin, remove it completely – do not rub.
• Use meat tenderizer or vinegar on the sting area. A salve of shaving cream or soap lather is helpful for immediate relief. Urine can even help as substitute for vinegar!
• Ice pack on sting area is helpful too.
• Also, an oral pain reliever – aspirin or Tylenol. (If necessary and person is not allergic.)
If there are symptoms other than local pain and redness, seek medical attention. Locally, clinics on Marco Island can treat stings. For less severe stings, use antibiotic cream for about three days and bandage as long as necessary on any open sores on sting areas.
NR: Mesoglea is the “jelly” in jellyfish and comb jellies – its gelatinous, waterway tissue is used by jellies to anchor their swimming muscles and is the majority of a jelly’s body. It’s about 96% water, 3 % salt and 1% organic material, which is a fibrous nest of collagen. Globs of mesoglea can commonly be found on the beach or on the surface of open water.
Q: What types of jellyfish are found here off the Gulf of Mexico?
NR: There are actually quite a few, and they range in size, shape and color. These are some of the typesyou might see:
Cannonball jellies – They have a thick, rigid “bell” or domed shaped top (can be 8 inch diameter) with no tentacles. I have seen dolphins flip them around like a ball! They are also common salad ingredients in Asia!!!!
Moon jellies – These guys have a saucer-like, clear bell with violet-pink (male) or yellow (female) four-lobed shaped design on top. This is the gonads for the jelly! It has hundreds of short tentacles and four frilly larger ones, or arms. These have a detectable sting that burns for most people; even when dead on the beach, or in a net.
Lion Main jellyfish – This large jelly has tentacles that can reach more than 6 feet! They can deliver sever blistering stings – even when dead on beach or in a net.
Sea Nettles – It has a 10 inch bell that has radiating stripes and long tentacles.
Ovate Comb Jellies – Ovate Comb Jellies are relatively small, up to 4-5 inches, and look like an oval or egg-shaped “sack” with 8 rows of celia (celia are little feet, this species has no tentacles). My family has nicknamed this species “sea snot”!!!
Q: That’s a lot of jellies!
NR: Yes, and there are also jellyfish-like species distantly related to jellyfish, but in a different class of species:
Portuguese Man of War – This guy can sting! It has a blue-tinged balloon withpink crest sail and tentacles up to 6 feet long – stinging tentacles! They are open sea animals but are usually seen beaching year round with peak months in December through May. Again, stinging tentacles – they cling to skin!
Blue Buttons – A small jelly-like creature, the blue button is only about a 1 inch blue disc surrounded by blue-green tentacles.
By-The-Wind Sailors – Also small, these 2-inch animal have sail or crest, but no balloon like the Portuguese Man of War. They too have tentacles that can sting!
NR: In or out of the water, try to notice your surroundings. Jellyfish, for the most part look clear in the water so they can be almost impossible to spot. Most people don’t see a sting coming, they just suddenly feel it. If you see one on the beach, stay away as it still may be able to sting you.
Jellyfish and other sea creatures are all a part of our beach and ocean systems. While they are carnivores (they eat zooplankton), they aren’t trying to eat you.
Carry a small bottle of vinegar to the beach in case of a sting. It will help relieve the pain. But don’t let a fear of jellyfish hold you back from enjoying all Marco’s beaches have to offer.