Humans vs jellyfish

Portuguese man o war washed up on beach

The European Union is funding a new programme aimed at highlighting the danger points for jellyfish attacks on Spanish beaches as their numbers grow as a result of global warming. David Ing has the sting

A joint team from the University of Alicante (UA), the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona and the Fundación Jiménez Díaz in Madrid has been set up to work on the project, known as LIFE Cubomed; the aim of the initiative is to create maps like those showing ‘black spots’ for road traffic accidents to help bathers avoid getting stung.

Some 70 per cent of health treatment incidents on the beach involve marine life. “And of these more than 90 per cent are jellyfish, which is why up-to-date training in prevention and treatment is necessary,” said UA researcher Cesar Bordehore.

The problem until now has been the challenge of collecting sufficient reliable information on what has become an increasingly common threat in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. “Town halls are often reticent to release data about incidents on their beaches and this has its effect when it comes to doing a good job,” said Bordehore.

It is estimated that half a million bathers need to be attended to for stings each year, and the team hopes that by providing better localisation of threats it will be able to identify larger swarms that need special attention.

“If we detect jellyfish presence in an area, by analysing the currents we can tell where they are headed and give advance warning to other towns,” Bordehore explained. “Every so often we come across new problems on the beaches, like [larger and more dangerous specimens such as] the Portuguese men o’ war last year, and although there is much research its application doesn’t always get through [to first aiders on the beaches].”

The project team is also proposing legal changes so that details of treatment given on a beach are passed on to GPs, as ‘very often people don’t go to a health centre after treatment and the incident is not reflected in medical records’.

A pilot project has got underway this summer at Denia in Alicante province, with 10 more towns supported by national rescue service Salvamento Marítimo and the Red Cross due to join the initiative in 2020.